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Health & Parenting

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Today's Teens Gain Weight Faster Than in 70s

Weight Gain Increasing Heart Risks but Diet, Exercise Work Quickly

Healthy Diet, Exercise Work Fast!

James Barnard, PhD, professor of physiological science at the University of California, Los Angeles who presented another study at the AHA meeting, tells WebMD that teens can reverse the negative effects of bad diet and too little exercise and can do so very quickly.

To prove the point, Barnard and his colleagues enrolled 18 adolescents and their parents in either a six-day or 13-day residential, educational program at the Pritikin Longevity Center. During the program the 9- to 16-year-olds were put on a low-fat, high-fiber diet and they were required to participate in 2.5 hours of physical activity including cardiovascular workouts, swimming, and games such as volleyball.

In less than two weeks, "there was a 26% drop in total cholesterol, a 36% drop in LDL "bad" cholesterol and a 41% drop in triglygerides -- another blood fat. That tells us that American kids are eating a terrible diet," says Barnard. The Pritikin diet consisted of 15% to 20% calories from fat, more than 40 grams of fiber daily and less than 1600 milligrams of sodium.

Steinberger says Barnard's study is very encouraging.

Fast and Easy Results

"I think this is a wonderful study, especially since they were able to lower LDL and triglycerides without lowering HDL "good" cholesterol," she says. Steinberger, who wasn't involved in Barnard's study, says that some diet studies have suggested that restricting fat in diets can also lower HDL. In Barnard's study there was no significant change in HDL levels. "This is an excellent result and it demonstrates how easy -- and fast -- these results can be achieved," she says.

Asked if such a program is really easy or practical, Barnard tells WebMD, "if we can get these kids to take two weeks from summer vacation to do this, I don't think it would be difficult to implement in ordinary circumstances." The only barrier, says Barnard, is the willingness of "families and communities to get involved in the effort."

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