The estimated number of vegans — people who abstain from eating not just meat but all animal products — in the country has jumped fourfold to 80,000 in the past decade, according to media reports.
And the Swiss vegan association maintains that more and more children are following a vegan diet, which it maintains is healthy.
But federal officials say that this kind of nutrition can lead to a deficiency in vitamin B12, which plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and the nervous system, as well as the formation of blood.
“Vegan food is not recommended for young children,” the federal public health office said in a statement.
“It can cause serious harm.”
An investigation by the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper said that every year a dozen children following vegan diets are treated for malnutrition in Switzerland.
“Parents want the best for their children but they sometimes are overly idealistic about how to achieve that,” Andrea Superti-Furga, professor of pediatrics at Lausanne’s CHUV hospital told 20 Minutes newspaper.
“With vegans of a young age, a lack of vitamin B12 can lead to irreversible damage to the nervous system,” Supert-Furga said.
When a baby is born it has a natural reserve of this vitamin that lasts for a year, plus it is also normally contained in mother’s milk, he said.
However, vegan mothers have very little B12 to offer a child, which can lead to a deficiency for the baby, the specialist said.