Extreme vegetarianism results in infant death

Religion-based diets are most likely NOT balanced or healthy. This is a crime and should be treated as such. We are not ignorant about child care and this is child abuse.

Baby dies of rickets from vegetarian mother.

A five-month-old baby has died from rickets after his parents insisted on following a strict eating regime as part of their religion.

Acute rickets, from which Ndingeko died on June 14, 2012, sees the bones soften because of a deficiency of vitamin D, phosphorus or calcium. The case comes after health professionals raised concerns that the Victorian disease is returning to Britain as a result of poor diets and children not being exposed to sufficient sunshine.

It is believed Ndingeko’s parents belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose members follow a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet – one that allows milk and eggs, but not animal flesh.

The pair both deny cruelty, but have admitted manslaughter.

Mrs Kunene pleaded guilty at a hearing on Jan 14 and Mr Kunene entered a guilty plea during Monday’s hearing.

In addition to softened bones, rickets can also lead to poor growth and skeletal deformities. Due to shortage of calcium it’s still a big problem in a lot of third-world countries.

Before this the last death caused by rickets in England was 30 years ago. While it was endemic in the 19th century, by the mid 20th century the disease was pretty much eradicated in England.

There is simply no excuse for following antiquated practices that we KNOW are harmful.

Mrs. and Mr. Kunene who are charged with manslaughter of their 5 month old baby. Photo credit: Central News

Mrs. and Mr. Kunene who are charged with manslaughter of their 5 month old baby. Photo credit: Central News

Tip: Tim Farley (@krelnik) via Twitter

  11 comments for “Extreme vegetarianism results in infant death

  1. Blargh
    February 3, 2014 at 9:10 PM

    This story sorely needs more details, because as written, I don’t really see the connection to the parents’ faith. Lacto-ovo-vegetarianism just shouldn’t be an issue (and I say that as an enthusiastic carnivore!). Heck, everything you need to avoid rickets is right there in the “lacto” part…

  2. Chris
    February 3, 2014 at 9:56 PM

    I have heard this happening with strict vegan diets, but not lacto-ovo vegetarianism (which is what my oldest son follows).

    Also, I remember that since I was exclusively breastfeeding my kids, the family doctor prescribed supplement drops for them. They contained at least (from memory, it was a long time ago, they are now all in college) fluoride (for their teeth), iron and vitamin D.

    Since the Kunene’s are in the UK they would have had access to the National Health Service. Why did they not supplement the child with the needed nutrients? Why wasn’t the problem found in the several “well baby” visits to a pediatrician/GP/family doctor… or even for vaccines?

  3. HeatherTwist
    February 3, 2014 at 11:19 PM

    I’m a happy carnivore myself, but at 5 months a baby wouldn’t be eating “meat” in any case. Milk is designed for feeding babies and does a good job of it. Basically this article is implying that the mother is not only vegan, but so vegan that she isn’t breastfeeding. That isn’t part of 7th Day Adventist teaching that I know of. Right now people are using the terms “Vegan” and “Vegetarian” interchangeably, unfortunately.

    The big problem I see with the vegan diet is that while some people feel very good on it for a short term, it doesn’t work for kids at all, and there is no long-term vegan culture for comparison. Pastoralists who mainly drink milk though, do pretty well on it. The Maasai have probably been studied the most, and traditionally milk provides the bulk of their diet even for adults. The adults do get somewhat anemic, but when iron supplements are given, they tend to get ill.


  4. Chris Hunt
    February 4, 2014 at 4:14 AM

    “Extreme” vegetarianism? “Milk, eggs, no meat” sounds like perfectly normal vegetarianism to me; as followed by millions of people around the world without harm to themselves or their children.

    There’s something more to this story that we aren’t being told. Maybe the child had a medical condition that the parents failed/refused to treat?

  5. Gary
    February 4, 2014 at 7:40 AM

    This can happen with a vegan diet, not a balanced vegetarian diet. Scientific consensus says that a vegetarian diet is one of the best for the heart, (along with pescatarian) but you have to do it right, just like any. An antiquated practice that we know is harmful is meat eating.

  6. John Nowak
    February 4, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    I’ll go along with the consensus — there’s something weird about this story. Seventh-Day Adventists have lots of kids and this is the first time I’ve heard of one dying from rickets.

  7. Andrew
    February 4, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    As others have said, lacto-ovo vegetarian is about as non-extreme as you can get (anything further up the scale and it’s not vegetarian anymore). There are vegans (true vegetarians), but there are also different degrees of veganism as well. Some go as far as no honey, no leather products, no food coloring (one of the colors uses bugs, can’t remember which one). Anyway, I’m seconding the headline being downright inaccurate and wanted to show that there are ‘extreme vegetarians’ and lacto-ovo is not it.

  8. Karin
    February 4, 2014 at 12:14 PM

    People with darker skin do not produce as much Vitamin D from sun exposure, which might also have something to do with this rare infant-death-by-rickets in Mormonism (why black people would join a church that teaches that their skin colour is a punishment from god is beyond me, but also not for this discussion). I agree that their vegetarianism is neither “extreme” nor likely to have much to do with this death, considering that (fortified) milk or infant formula would have been permissible…

  9. February 4, 2014 at 1:22 PM

    The only Seventh Day Adventists I’ve known were strict vegans. The teen daughter was quite healthy, but I don’t know when she was started on the vegan diet.

    All the other vegetarians I’ve known were of the lacto-ovo variety.

    At 5 months, the infant should still have been at least partly breast-fed, or fed formula. That alone would have helped his health. So I agree there is something fishy about this story.

  10. Lagaya1
    February 4, 2014 at 3:45 PM

    It’s quite a leap to blame vegetarianism. The last death from rickets in England was 30 years ago, and I’m sure there have been plenty of vegetarians in 30 years who were perfectly fine. I’ve been a vegan for 10+ years, and the only nutrient that my diet lacks is B12, which I supplement. Of course, I live in Hawaii, where D falls from the sky…

    Your headline is a bit sensational, I think.

  11. Chris Howard
    February 4, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    This reminds me of an Ethics of Food course I took back in my philosophy of science days.

    I was amazed that out of all the other classes I took- Comparitive/World Religion, Political Ethics, Ethics of Religion, and Business/Economic Ethics- none of these caused as much argumentation and debate as Ethics of Food.

    People would get so angry that they’d leave the classroom.

    Have a disagreement about Neo-Liberal economics vs. a Communist economic model, or wether Yahweh started as a tribal volcano god, then evolved into THE one and only God, no problem.

    But once you start to critique grandmas Thanksgiving dinner, or the insanely gluttonous eating habits of middle class to ruling class America, the gloves are off!

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