Researchers asked which diets are safe and effective for overweight youngsters
By Natasha Persaud
Low carb diets are popular, and they've shown some promise for weight management in teens and adults. So researchers wondered if such diets would help younger kids lose more weight than a standard portion-controlled diet. Their study results, while preliminary, give parents food for thought for helping their children shed excess pounds.
For the study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, 100 obese kids ages 7 to 12 with no serious medical conditions were randomly assigned to one of three diets for three months:
- a low carb diet that caps carbohydrate consumption at 60 grams per day
- a low fat, portion-controlled diet with no more than 30 percent of calories coming from fat
- a reduced glycemic load diet that restricts foods high on the glycemic index, a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels.
During the three months, families met with registered dietitians to learn about the diet, plan menus, and set goals. Kids also participated in bi-weekly group exercise sessions that included active play, aerobic training and resistance training. For incentive, the youngsters received a prize from their parents each week when goals were met.
After the three months, sessions with the weight loss team stopped but families were encouraged to continue the diets if their kids were still overweight.
Weighing the Diets
One year from the start date, researchers discovered that children from all three diet groups lowered their body mass index (BMI) and trimmed body fat. Each diet also appeared to improve the children's heart health—but in different ways.
Kids on the low carb diet had the hardest time sticking to the eating plan, frequently consuming more than the 60 grams of carbohydrates per day they were allowed. The reduced glycemic load diet was the easiest to follow, perhaps because it used a stoplight approach: green for “go” ahead and eat it; yellow for “slow down” and eat fewer of these foods; and red for “stop” these foods entirely. “Green” foods included plain fruit, nonstarchy vegetables, whole grains, fish and lean meat. “Yellow foods” included pizza, macaroni and cheese, corn and dried fruits. “Red" items included foods such as candy, white bread, white potatoes and baked desserts made with white (refined) flour and sugar.
More research is needed to fully understand what is takes to achieve and maintain long-term weight control in children but, for now, these study “findings raise the possibility that intensive guidance with the initial clinical application of weight management diets can lead to long-term success in children.”
Kirk, et al. “Role of Carbohydrate Modification in Weight Management Among Obese Children: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” The Journal of Pediatrics. Published online 01 March 2012.