Friday, June 13, 2008

Vegan girl, 12, 'has spine of 80-year-old'

Degenerative bone condition thought to be a result of strict diet

A girl of 12 brought up by her parents on a strict vegan diet has been admitted to hospital with a degenerative bone condition said to have left her with the spine of an 80-year-old.

Doctors are under pressure to report the couple, from Glasgow, to police and social workers amid concerns her health and welfare may have been neglected in pursuit of their beliefs.

The youngster, fed on a strict meat- and dairy-free diet from birth, is being treated at the city’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children. She is said to have a severe form of rickets and to have suffered a number of fractured bones. The condition is caused by a lack of vitamin D, which is needed to absorb calcium and is found in liver, oily fish and dairy produce.

Dr Faisal Ahmed, the consultant treating the child, said he believed the dangers of forcing children to follow a strict vegan diet needed to be highlighted. “Something like this needs publicity,” he said. However, he refused to blame the parents, who are understood to be well-known figures in Glasgow’s vegan community: “We shouldn’t name and shame \. Mum feels guilty about the whole thing and feels bad about it.”

Jonathan Sher, head of policy at Children in Scotland, said: “If the consequence of parental behaviour is physical, mental or emotional harm to a child, then the child protection system should become involved.” Bill Aitken, justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, added: “If the youngster is coming to clinical harm, something must be done.”

In 2001, British vegans Hazmik and Garabet Manuelyan, from Staines, were sentenced to three years’ community rehabilitation after they admitted starving daughter Arenai, 10 months, to death. She had been fed nothing but breast milk, raw fruit, vegetables and nuts.

Veganism is becoming increasingly popular due to concerns about animal welfare. There are 250,000 adherents in the UK and the Vegan Society publishes a guide, Feeding Your Vegan Infant With Confidence. A spokesman said: “I would suggest that it is not the vegan diet itself \ but the parents.”

Professor Tom Sanders, head of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, warned that while most vegan parents give their children vitamin and mineral supplements, there was a core of hardliners putting their children’s health at risk.

He said: “Some of them think we’re still monkeys that can live on fruit and nuts.”

Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS board declined to comment. A spokesman for Glasgow city council said the matter had not been referred to its social work department.

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