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Family Meals Help Cut Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is on everyone's minds, including First Lady Michelle Obama's. But what's the best way to help children who have already put on unwanted pounds? A new study set out to determine how children would be affected by reducing their fat intake by switching to low- and reduced-fat dairy products. Would they lose weight over the study’s six month period or remain the same weight as their full-fat-consuming counterparts?
Cutting fat and cutting carbs are two of the most popular weight loss methods. Both can work, but the bottom line in weight-loss is the tried-and-true: burning off more calories than you consume.
Dieting by cutting out certain foods – carbs or fats – can backfire. When people slash specific food groups from their diet, they may "make up for" these lost calories by adding calories, perhaps unwittingly, in other parts of the diet. For example, studies have found that in adults, cutting saturated fat is no help to the heart if the bad fats are replaced with bad carbs.
The same is true for kids and adolescents who are overweight or obese and trying to lose weight. Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for many health problems in the future: according to the CDC, many overweight and obese kids have at least one marker for cardiovascular disease.(1) Even eating too much sugar can increase kids’ cholesterol levels.
Cutting the Fat — Why It Doesn't Always Work
The study followed 145 children between the ages of four and 13, and their parents. They divided the participants into two groups: one group was educated on the benefits of dairy while at the same time asked to replace regular-fat dairy products with reduced- and low-fat products. The other half of the participants (the control group) were told about reducing screen time as a healthy habit, which served as a non-dietary, lifestyle comparison.
The kids kept to their respective diets for 24 weeks. The children’s saturated fat intake was tracked, along with overall energy (calorie) intake and nutrient consumption. (The children and their caregivers filled out detailed questionnaires about the types of foods they ate, including brands, quantities, and locations in which the foods were consumed.) Blood fat levels were also tracked, and weight was measured using the body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.
Total fat intake was slightly reduced over the six-month study (from 17% of total calories to 13 %), In the kids who changed their eating habits; so was their saturated fat intake (from 16% to 13%). Though this is a significant change, their fat intake was still higher than the recommended 10%. The kids who switched to low- and reduced-fat dairy also had a significant drop in their cholesterol levels.
But waistlines did not reflect the changes in diets. Kids in the low-/reduced-fat group weighed no less than the control group at the end of the study, and their waist circumference and BMIs also remained the same. This suggests that kids were making up for lost calories from fat in other ways. Indeed, the analysis of the kids’ eating habits showed that the proportion of protein and carbs changed as time went on, compared to the beginning of the study. This finding, published in the May issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, led the authors to suggest that kids may make up for lost calories in other ways, perhaps using the low-fat label as an excuse to indulge in high calorie treats.