Varied Diets May Not Curb Childhood Obesity
Kids given more food diversity might be heavier, researchers find
By Kathleen Doheny
THURSDAY, Feb. 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Eating a greater variety of healthy foods may reduce the odds of being overweight in adults. But, a surprising new study suggests that a greater diversity of foods might not have the same effect in very young, poorer children, and may even increase their risk of becoming overweight.
"We found that among low-income, preschool-age children in the U.S., dietary variety and diversity were not associated with [overall] body mass index," said study author Dr. Julie Lumeng. She is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School and School of Public Health in Ann Arbor.
However, from year-to-year, the researchers found that greater overall food variety, healthy food variety and dietary diversity were linked to greater annual increases in body mass index (BMI) in the youngsters studied.
BMI is a rough estimate of a person's body fat based on weight and height measurements. In children, age and gender also play a role in BMI calculations. In general, the higher the BMI, the more fat someone has, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers said the annual changes in BMI in the children studied were small, but were "notable" because they were unexpected. Lumeng and her team had thought that a greater variety of foods, particularly healthy foods, would lead to improvements in BMI scores.
Because the findings were so counterintuitive, the researchers said it's too soon to make any dietary guideline changes based on the results. And the study was only designed to show an association between food variety and BMI, not cause-and-effect.
Lumeng and her colleagues decided to look at the effect of dietary diversity in young children because of the prevalence of obesity in children and a lack of research on the topic. Nearly 23 percent of U.S. preschoolers are overweight or obese, and that figure rises to 30 percent in low-income families, the study authors said.
The researchers evaluated 340 preschoolers, who were all 4 years old when the study began. They were also enrolled in Head Start, a federally funded program for low-income children.