A low-fat, plant-based vegan diet may help obese children lower their risk of heart disease as compared to the American Heart Association (AHA)’s recommended diet, according to a new study from Cleveland Clinic.
The study, published online in The Journal of Pediatrics, took place over four weeks and was overseen by Michael Macknin, M.D., a staff pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. The 28 obese children in the study were between the ages of 9 and 18; all had high cholesterol, and all had one parent that also followed the diet. Results showed that a plant-based diet resulted in improvements in obese children’s weight, blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity and high-sensitivity C-reactive.
The diet consisted of vegan plants and whole grains, with limited avocado and nuts, no added fat and no animal products. After four weeks, the children in the study had significant improvements in nine measures: BMI, systolic blood pressure, weight, mid-arm circumference, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, insulin, myeloperoxidase and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. The latter two are common markers of heart disease. They also reduced their consumption of animal proteins, calories from fat and saturated fat.
Those on the AHA diet also saw positive results, but in lesser quantities. 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 on the AHA diet had improvements in weight, waist circumference, mid-arm circumference and myeloperoxidase.
“We’ve known that plant-based diets are beneficial in adults in preventing and possibly reversing heart disease,” said Macknin. “This study shows that the same may be true in children, too.”
Obese children are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, which can continue into adulthood. Therefore, it is important to start to get children to eat healthier at a younger age.
“If we can see such significant improvements in a short four-week study, imagine the potential for improving long-term health into adulthood…” said Macknin.
The Cleveland Clinic reported that participants had difficulty finding and purchasing the necessary food for a plant-based vegan diet. “We know that plant-based diets are effective, but if they are to be widely used, we need to make access…easier and more affordable,” Macknin noted.