Plant-Based Foods Keep Childhood Obesity at Bay

This study investigated the link between the risk of being overweight and consumption of different food items by teenagers and children. The study involved 1,764 school-going children aged 6 to 19 years. They were assessed for being overweight or having normal weight and their intake of grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products was calculated. The results showed that children who consumed more nuts, grains and vegetables were less likely to gain unhealthy weight, whereas high dairy consumption was more likely to lead to being overweight. The authors conclude thus: “The regular intake of specific plant foods may prevent being overweight among children and adolescents.”

There is an alarming rise in the number of obese children and teenagers. This is speculated to lead to more people with chronic weight-related ailments like heart disease, diabetes, joint problems, arthritis, and even cancer, which substantially shortens the lifespan. It is known that a reduced and restricted diet and regular physical exercise may help to maintain a healthy weight and control the weight gain. In this aspect, plant foods are preferred because they have low fat and high fiber contents. In fact, studies have shown that vegetarians raise leaner and lighter children compared to meateaters. This study investigated the link of obesity and food choices in a large sample of school-going children and adolescents.

* The study involved 1,764 healthy children aged 6 to 19 years.
* The body mass index (BMI) of these children was measured, which included measurement of body weight and height. The BMI was calculated based on body weight in kilograms over the height in meters squared.
* All the participants answered a standard food questionnaire that had 106 questions.
* The link between obesity and consumption of foods like nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fish, meat and eggs, and other low nutrient-dense foods was observed by using statistical tests.

Key findings
* The results showed that among the participants, 17 percent of the boys and 20 percent of the girls were overweight.
* Overall, the results showed that the risk of being overweight reduced significantly in children who consumed more vegetables, grains and nuts.
* It was found that consumption of grains, nuts, vegetables and oddly low nutrient-dense foods had and inverse relationship to gaining weight, while dairy products increased risk of obesity.
* The consumption of meat, eggs, fish and fruits did not affect the risk of being overweight significantly.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors confirm that they did not consider race and the ethnic backgrounds of the participants. The results may not have been representative of all racial and ethnic groups because genetics as well as food patterns at home were subjective to ethnicity. The authors also add that this study did not take into account the number of hours the children spent in physical activity and the amount of time they spent in more sedentary pursuits like watching television. The authors suggest that further studies that will consider these factors are warranted.

This study shows that daily consumption of plant-derived foods like vegetables, nuts, and grains may help in reduction of the risk of being obese in children and teenagers. Dairy products, with their high fat content, may not be as beneficial in the population taken into account for this study. The authors confirm that there are fewer plant-derived products in the school food initiatives; this must be changed as per the findings of this study. The authors recommend “plant-based foods as one sensible approach for the prevention of obesity in children and adolescents.” These are affordable and accessible and could be made desirable among schoolchildren.

For More Information:
The Risk of Child and Adolescent Overweight is Related to Types of Food Consumed
Publication Journal: Nutrition Journal, June 2011
By Vichuda L. Matthews; Michelle Wien; Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California

* FYI Living Lab Reports are a summary of the original report.

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