Low Cholesterol Diet Good Move for Some Children

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 28, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Low cholesterol diets can be as good for some children as for adults. That's according to new research that counters studies suggesting low cholesterol diets in children could possibly be harmful.

Fatty acids are an essential part of brain tissue and are needed by growing bodies and minds. Some researchers have raised concern that diets low in these fatty acids may adversely affect the brain's development, and therefore affect a person's ability to learn and adjust effectively.

Not so, according to the Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC) conducted by researchers around the country and published in the November issue of the American Psychological Association's journal Health Psychology. For three years, 663 8- to 10-year-olds with elevated cholesterol levels were followed by researchers.

They were split up into two groups, one of which was simply given information on heart-healthy diets generally available to the public. The second group received individual and group counseling sessions to help their families adopt diets that contained 28% or less of calories from total fat. Dietary cholesterol intake was lowered also. This diet is similar to one recommended for children who have a family history of heart disease, both of which require a lower fat and cholesterol intake than the diet of a typical child in the U.S.

At the start of the trial, 34% of the participants' average caloric intake came from fat, and dietary cholesterol intake was elevated. After three years, the two groups were compared to each other on the basis of a battery of tests that gauged their emotional health, academic achievement, and family functioning.

The difference between the two groups was minor in most categories. When the gap was more statistically significant, it generally worked to the advantage of those children who had dietary counseling. "When statistically significant effects were observed," the authors write, "they generally indicated a beneficial effect from the dietary intervention." Children in this group ended up with an improved cholesterol level, and actually showed lower levels of self-reported depression.

The researchers took issue with some of the previous studies that questioned the safety of low cholesterol diets in children. They write the studies usually used "extreme diets not consistent with current recommendations."


As for their own study, the authors acknowledge some limitations. "Children in this study generally came from families with well-educated parents, were average to above average academically, and appeared normal on measures of psychological adjustment and competence. It remains to be determined whether there might be adverse psychosocial effects with the implementation of the DISC diet in other socioeconomic groups and with children younger than 8- to 10-years-old at the initiation of the diet," the authors write.

The research was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Vital Information:

  • Because fatty acids are an essential part of brain tissue, it has been uncertain whether low-cholesterol diets were healthy for children who are still growing and developing.
  • A new study shows that a low-cholesterol diet is healthy for children, lowering their bad cholesterol, and does not cause any adverse psychological effects.
  • Older research that questioned the safety of this type of diet usually used extreme diets that are inconsistent with current recommendations.
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