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Children's Health

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Healthy Diet Helps Kids' Blood Pressure

Serving Up Fruits, Veggies, and Dairy Can Keep Blood Pressure in Check for Years

Blood Pressure Benefits

"A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products may have beneficial effects on blood pressure during childhood," say Lynn Moore, DSc., and colleagues in the January issue of Epidemiology.

The researchers studied the blood pressure and eating habits of children from 95 Massachusetts families, following them for eight years. The kids had enrolled in the Framingham Children's Study when they were 3-6 years old. At yearly clinic visits, the children's blood pressure was measured five times.

Each child also had several sets of food diaries. The diaries noted every morsel the kids ate for three-day stretches, paying close attention to serving size. Parents completed the diaries for kids too young to help.

Since kids often eat differently when they start school, the food diaries were frequently repeated. During the study's first year, every child had four sets of three-day food diaries. Later, each had one or two sets of food diaries annually.

The Power of Good Nutrition

The children who ate four or more daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products had the lowest blood pressure as adolescents. "The combination of higher dairy consumption and higher fruit and vegetable consumption provided the greatest blood pressure benefit," write the researchers.

The second-best blood pressure was seen in children who ate four or more servings of fruits and vegetables, but fewer dairy products (or vice versa). At the bottom of the list were the kids who skimped on both produce and dairy products.

The effect was strongest for systolic blood pressure-the top or first number of the blood pressure reading, when the heart contracts to pump blood to the rest of the body. The healthiest eaters had an average systolic blood pressure of about 106 mmHg, compared with 113 mmHg for those who ate fewer fruits, vegetables, or dairy products.

Healthy Patterns

The kids who ate the most fruits, veggies, and milk products also tended to be the healthiest eaters, overall. For instance, they ate slightly more whole grains than their peers.

The researchers also considered other factors, including body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat. Children who ate healthier diets tended to be leaner. "A small part of the protective effect of diet may be explained by differences in body size," they say.

The amount of fat in dairy products didn't matter, as far as the kids' blood pressure was concerned. The researchers didn't see a difference between whole- and reduced-fat dairy products.

But for families making a team effort to control blood pressure, lower-fat dairy products might be the way to go. Those items - as well as diets high in fruits and vegetables -- are favored in adult blood pressure food plans like DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Limiting salt intake might also help.

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