Low-Fat, Plant-Based Vegan Diet May Reduce Heart Disease Risk Among Obese Children

Sliced VegetablesConsuming a low-fat, plant-based vegan diet may reduce the risk of heart disease among obese children and teens through improvements in weight, blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity, and high-sensitivity C-reactive, says a new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Obesity increases the risk for stroke, type 2 diabetes,  heart disease, certain cancers, and other health problems. Over the past three decades, obesity rates have more than doubled in children between the ages of 6 and 11 and  quadrupled in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19.

Says Dr. Michael Macknin, a staff pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s in Ohio:

“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.”

For the present study, researchers led by Dr. Macknin assigned 28 obese children and adolescents between the ages of 9 and 18 years old who had high cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease, to a plant-based diet or the American Heart Association (AHA) diet for four weeks. The AHA diet consists of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, and nuts with red meat and sugary foods and drinks consumed in moderation. One parent of each child also consumed the same diet during the four weeks of the study.

The participants who followed the plant-based diet consumed plants and whole grains, no added fat or animal products, and limited amounts of avocado and nuts. The diet reduced the intake of animal protein from 42 grams to 2.24 grams per day. The percentage of calories from fat and saturated fat decreased from 18 percent to 3.6 percent.

The participants who followed the AHA diet consumed less than 30 percent of total daily calories from fat, less than 7 percent of total daily calories from saturated fat, less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily, and less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily.

All the participants in the study also attended two-hour nutrition education sessions weekly.

According to the study, children and adolescents who consumed the plant-based diet exhibited major improvements in body mass index (BMI), weight, mid-arm circumference, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, insulin, myeloperoxidase, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. Myeloperoxidase and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, in particular, are two common indicators of heart disease.

The children and adolescents who consumed the AHA diet also showed improvements but only in weight, waist circumference, mid-arm circumference, and myeloperoxidase.

The differences in findings between the two groups indicates that the plant-based diet was more effective in improving the health of the obese children and teenagers.

While still beneficial, those who followed the AHA diet only showed improvements in weight, waist circumference, mid-arm circumference and myeloperoxidase, indicating that the plant-based diet was more effective.

Comments Dr. Macknin:

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

The researchers do note that, although the majority of the children, adolescents, and parents were able to follow the plant-based diet for the four-week study period, many found purchasing the required food challenging due to limited availability and high prices.

Says Dr. Macknin:

“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.”

Another study from last year found that eating a vegetarian diet may help lower blood pressure.


Low-fat, plant-based vegan diet ‘may reduce heart disease risk’ in obese children:
Plant-based diet may reduce obese children’s risk of heart disease:
Plant-based diet may reduce obese children’s risk of heart disease:
Plant-based, no-added-fat or American Heart Association diets: impact on cardiovascular risk in obese children with hypercholesterolemia and their parents:

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