Plant-Based Diet May Cut Cardiovascular Risk in Obese Children

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A low-fat, plant-based vegan diet may decrease heart disease risk in obese children by improving their weight, blood pressure (BP), BMI, cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP), new data published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggest.

During the 4-week study, Michael Macknin, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic Children's in Ohio, and colleagues compared a plant-based vegan diet with the American Heart Association (AHA) diet in 28 obese children aged 9 to 18 years with hypercholesterolemia. One parent of each child also followed the specified diet plan.

The plant-based diet included plants and whole grains, limited avocado and nuts, no added fat and no animal products. In the children following this diet, BMI, systolic BP, weight, mid-arm circumference, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, insulin, myeloperoxidase and high-sensitivity CRP improved, according to the data.

The AHA diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-whole grains, limited sodium, low-fat dairy, selected plant oils, and lean meat and fish in moderation. Children following this diet also experienced improvements in metabolic parameters, although in fewer areas: weight, waist circumference, mid-arm circumference and myeloperoxidase.

"As the number of obese children with high cholesterol continues to grow, we need to have effective lifestyle modifications to help them reverse their risk factors for heart disease. We've known that plant-based diets are beneficial in adults in preventing and possibly reversing heart disease. This study shows that the same may be true in children too, though more studies are needed," Dr. Macknin said in a press release.

"Cardiovascular disease begins in childhood. If we can see such significant improvements in a short 4-week study, imagine the potential for improving long-term health into adulthood if a whole population of children began to eat these diets regularly."

Dr. Macknin also noted, however, that participants experienced some problems with the diets.

"Most families in the study were able to follow these dietary guidelines for the four-week study, but we found that they had difficulty purchasing the food necessary for a balanced plant-based diet. So we know that plant-based diets are effective, but if they are to be widely used, we need to make access to plant-based, no-added-fat foods easier and more affordable," Dr. Macknin said.

Plant-Based Diet May Cut Cardiovascular Risk in Obese Children
Plant-Based Diet May Cut Cardiovascular Risk in Obese Children

Objective: To perform a randomized trial to determine whether there is cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk reduction from a plant-based (PB), no–added-fat diet and the American Heart Association (AHA) diet in children.

Study design: A 4-week (April 20, 2013 to May 18, 2013), prospective randomized trial was undertaken in a large, Midwestern hospital system's predominantly middle class outpatient pediatric practices. Thirty children (9-18 years of age) parent pairs with a last recorded child body mass index >95th percentile and child cholesterol >169 mg/dL were randomized to PB or AHA with weekly 2-hour classes of nutrition education.

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