An Italian couple have lost custody of a 14-month-old child after he was hospitalized with severe malnutrition. We ask experts whether it’s possible to raise a healthy baby on a vegan diet.

A vegan couple in Italy has lost custody of their 14-month-old son after the baby was taken to hospital by concerned grandparents and found to be suffering from severe malnutrition.

The baby weighed the same as the average three-month-old, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reports. Doctors at Fatebenfratelli Hospital in Milan described the baby’s calcium’s levels as “the minimum needed to survive.” The child was also found to suffer from a congenital heart condition, unrelated to but exacerbated by his calcium deficiency, and underwent emergency surgery.

Hospital workers informed social services after his parents refused to adapt the child’s vegan diet at the request of doctors. The child has now been taken into protective custody while the authorities decide whether to place him with his grandparents, or into foster care.

A 2011 Eurispes study puts the number of vegetarians at 12 percent of the population—the highest in the European Union—with 600,000 people adhering to a vegan diet. But a number of recent high-profile cases in Italy have galvanized public attention around the issue of feeding children vegan diets.

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