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Purpose: The primary purpose of this study is to investigate the feasibility of a plant-based lifestyle on the development of children from birth to four years of age. The secondary purpose of this study is to discuss the implications of a plant-based diet during early childhood on the profession of physical therapy.

Methods: Two separate searches were completed using different search terms. The databases utilized by both searches included CINAHL Complete, Academic Search Ultimate, Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition, and MEDLINE. Inclusion criteria were 1) studies published within the past 10 years, 2) children receiving a plant-based diet, 3) children postpartum up to years of age. Studies were excluded if they were systematic reviews, studies focusing solely on the effects of a plant-based diet of the mother and not the child, children with developmental disorders.

Results: The search resulted in 11 studies that met the criteria and were used in this systematic review. Of the 11 studies, the results were summarized amongst three categories; anthropometrics, development, and micronutrients. Of the seven studies using anthropometrics, one had significant findings showing children in the unhealthful plant-based diet being stunted when measured against the WHO standards of height for age. Three studies used one developmental outcome measure each to evaluate the plant-based groups. Two of the three studies showed that children following a plant-based diet had better developmental scores when receiving B12 supplements compared to the scores of children not receiving B12 supplementation. The third study showed no relevant significance of development while measuring the age of sitting and walking amongst children on either diet. Lastly, seven studies looked at micronutrient levels of children on plant-based diets. Of the seven studies multiple micronutrient levels were evaluated, notably vitamin B12, folate, iodine, and choline. Five studies looked at B12 micronutrient levels, three of which included folate because of the intimacy of the two micronutrients. Findings showed that levels of B12 are of a normal value when supplemented in a child following a plant-based diet. Of the micronutrients a study was dedicated to each choline and iodine. Results from the study centered around choline showed that mothers following a plant-based diet provide adequate levels of choline to their children via breast milk. The iodine study compared the iodine levels of children receiving an OM, VG, and VN diet, all of which had iodine levels being below the recommended values but the omnivorous had the highest iodine levels of the three diets compared. Lastly, the current study gathered results from the 11 articles regarding cholesterol and fatty acid levels. The cholesterol and fatty acid panels of the plant-based groups showed lower total cholesterol, lower saturated fatty acids, and higher total polyunsaturated fatty acids when compared to the omnivorous groups.

Conclusion: Plant-based diets can be sustainable for infants and children up to age four if implemented properly. Insufficiencies in micronutrient levels can occur in this target population, though there were little to no delays in development or growth based on pediatric outcome measures and anthropometric analyses. Any micronutrient insufficiencies can be remedied with proper supplementation, though guidance is recommended in this area as hypervitaminosis may occur. Regarding the role of physical therapy, if applicable within the therapist's jurisdiction, expanding personal scope of practice to include nutrition can be beneficial for the clinician and their patients.

Publication Date


Document Type



Physical Therapy


pediatric, physical therapy, nutrition, vegetarian/vegan, supplementation


Medicine and Health Sciences

The Influence of a Plant-Based Diet from Birth to Early Childhood on Anthropometric Measures, Developmental Milestones, and Micronutrient Levels: A Systematic Review