Teenage girls say no to meat


ONE in three teenage girls avoids, or would like to avoid, eating meat and almost two thirds of these girls say they "want to be slimmer", according to a new study.

Data and blood samples were collected from 450 transition year students in Dublin by a doctoral student, Ms Yvonne Ryan, from Trinity College Medical School. The average age of the girls was 15.

Some 34 per cent said they avoided meat or would like to. The main reason given was "cruelty to animals" cited by 53 per cent, while more than half said they did not like the taste. Almost a third said meat was fattening and 23 per cent said a vegetarian diet was more healthy.

Ms Ryan's research was presented at a conference of the clinical chemical advisory body of the Academy of Medical Laboratory Science in Dublin yesterday. She said the figures reflected research in Britain showing a threefold increase in the number of women going on a "meatless diet". This was recorded before the BSE crisis last year, so could be even higher now, she said.

Teenage girls stop eating meat as a "slimming strategy", she said. And the high number who said they did not like the taste could include girls who do not want to admit that they are trying to lose weight. More than two thirds of the group said they thought meat was fattening, 59 per cent wanted to be slimmer and 68 per cent had tried to lose weight in the past.

Ms Ryan said adolescent girls appeared to need more iron in their diet than boys and meat was a source of iron. When they were growing, between the ages of 13 and 14, boys needed up to 2.5mg of iron a day. However, their iron reserves returned to normal after this growth spurt.

Girls matured earlier, she said, and this was usually followed by menstruation, which meant that the female iron requirement did not settle back to prepuberty levels.

Blood samples from the teenagers showed that 30 per cent had low stores of iron, but only 3 per cent were found to be anaemic. Ms Ryan said this showed that low iron reserves might not be a cause for concern, as the body compensated by absorbing more iron from daily food. However, if a diet did not provide sufficient iron, "at this point iron starts to disappear from bone marrow stores".

Ms Ryan said an appropriate vegetarian diet could provide adequate iron, "but teenagers may also be avoiding other staple foods and could be at a much greater risk of nutrient inadequacies".

Asked what advice she would give to teenagers, she said a meatless diet should be carefully planned. "The teenage girl who stops eating meat, fish and chicken and eats just the potatoes and vegetables is likely to run into problems."

Meanwhile, Dr Sean O'Broin from St James's Hospital in Dublin told the conference that studies indicated that vitamin B12 could be a factor in preventing spina bifida in babies. Mothers are already advised to take folic acid before becoming pregnant to prevent the disease.