Byline: Lisa Salmon
A picture of a young child smoking is enough to shock any parent. The beefburger in her other hand is unlikely to cause the same reaction - but a new charity says it should.
The Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation (VVF), which has produced a campaign leaflet picturing the smoking girl with the burger, claims that a diet containing animal and dairy products early in life can sow the seeds for the start of heart disease, some types of cancer and diabetes later on.
The VVF's senior nutritionist, Laura Scott, says: 'You'd be shocked if a child as young as eight was smoking, yet we should be just as concerned about the junk food diet they're eating.
'The seeds of disease are sown in childhood, but scientific studies have shown that a vegetarian diet is the best vehicle for promoting healthy eating in children, ensuring they get the health-promoting nutrients they need to protect them.'
The charity claims that poor diet is responsible for even more deaths than tobacco and estimates the direct medical costs related to meat consumption at pounds 3-6 billion annually in the UK.
'Heart disease and cancer are already at epidemic proportions,' claims Scott. 'And children are developing diseases once seen only in adulthood, such as obesity and adult-onset diabetes.
'The campaign aims to put parents back in charge of their children's health and to counter claims that animal products are a necessary part of a human diet.
'They are not. Animal products are killing our children and the science is overwhelming.'
The campaign has been backed by Professor Colin Campbell, senior scientific advisor to the World Cancer Research Fund, who says meat and dairy products are destroying children's health.
Prof Campbell believes a move to a plant-based diet could be an effective way of tackling what the VVF describes as 'the growing health crisis in young people'.
He says: 'It's time to make clear to the public that even conservative science is strongly trending in the direction of a plant-based diet.
'Animal foods in general are not really helpful and we need to be getting away from eating them.'
A plant diet is believed to protect against cancer through fibre sweeping toxins out of the body and a rich supply of anti-oxidants protects cells against damage. Vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower are thought to be particularly valuable in fighting cancer.
Studies have also shown that a vegetarian diet could help in the prevention and treatment of kidney disease and the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Lower levels of saturated fat in vegetarian and vegan diets means they are generally less obese than meat eaters. …