Cleveland Clinic-led research has found that statistically overweight children who followed a healthy eating pattern significantly improved weight and reduced a variety of cardiovascular disease risks. The study, ‘Three Healthy Eating Patterns and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Markers in 9 to 18 Year Olds With Body Mass Index >95%: A Randomized Trial’, published in the Journal Clinical Pediatrics, paired parents and children together throughout the trial.
"This study helps show the importance of starting healthy eating patterns as young as possible,” said lead author, Dr Michael Macknin, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics of Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. “We know that cardiovascular disease begins in childhood, and children's eating patterns are easier to mould than adolescents and adults.”
For one year, researchers studied changing cardiovascular disease risk markers associated with three healthy eating patterns in 96 children between the ages of 9 and 18 years old with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 95%.
The three healthy eating patterns studied were the American Heart Association Diet, Mediterranean Diet, and Plant-based diet. All three emphasised whole foods, fruits and vegetables, and limited added salt, red meat and processed foods. Parent and child pairs attended weekly educational sessions for four weeks which covered suggested foods to eat and avoid, how to read package labels, proper portion sizes and shopping tips. Fasting blood tests were used to access biomarkers of cardiovascular risk. All three diets were associated with improvements in weight, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition recommends that healthy children aged two and older follow a diet low in fat (30 percent of calories from fat). These are the same recommendations for healthy adults. In the study, dietary compliance rates averaged 65% in week four and 55% in week 52 suggesting small improvements in diets can still be very beneficial.
"Because the process of heart disease begins in childhood, prevention should begin there as well," said Dr W H Wilson Tang, study author and research director in the section of heart failure and cardiac transplantation medicine in the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute at Cleveland Clinic. "A large majority of heart disease is due to modifiable or controllable risk factors, so it's important for children to understand that they are in large part responsible for their health."