OBJECTIVE:To assess the ability of a meat free diet to support normal growth of children. DESIGN:A one year longitudinal observational case--comparison study of growth. SETTING:Children were recruited mainly through schools from Merseyside and all measurements were taken in their homes. SUBJECTS:Fifty 'free-living' children following meat free diets, aged 7-11 y (expected to be pre-pubertal), were compared with a control group of 50 omnivores matched for age, sex and ethnic group. INTERVENTION:None. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:Height, weight, upper arm skinfold thicknesses and mid-upper arm circumference measurements were taken at baseline and one year later. The increments over one year were each analysed using a multiple stepwise regression model which derived predicted increments controlled for a variety of factors other than the diet factor. RESULTS:Of all the anthropometric measurements examined only the predicted height increment of the vegetarians was slightly greater than that of the omnivores (difference in predicted height increment = 0.47 cm, P = 0.05). This difference was only apparent after allowing for father's height, maternal smoking habit and number of siblings. A tendency for the vegetarians to be leaner than the omnivores was not significant at the 5% level and both the vegetarian and omnivorous groups lay close to the 50th percentiles for both height and weight (Child Growth Foundation, 1994). CONCLUSIONS:The results suggest that these children who followed a meat free diet and conventional lifestyles grew at least as well as children who ate meat.