A new research finding could help parents and public health specialists deal with one of the more troubling conundrums of the new millennium: how to keep teens from getting fat. The study, published today in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, found that girls who followed basic principles of the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet through their teens had a smaller tendency to gain an excess amount of weight by the time they reached early adulthood than teens who didn't stick to this diet.
The DASH diet centers around high consumption of low-fat dairy products, fish, chicken, and lean cuts of beef, as well as nuts, fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. This is the diet thatís recommended by the US government in its dietary guidelines, says study author Dr. Jonathan Berz, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. "And I absolutely think this highlights what we felt in our gut is true -- that it can prevent extra weight gain over time."
The research, which surveyed more than 2,300 girls on their eating habits during 10 annual visits beginning at age 9, found that those whose eating patterns were closest to the DASH diet had an average body mass index of 24 (considered a healthy weight) by age 18, compared with a BMI of 26 (considered overweight) for those who didn't follow DASH.
The diet plan boils down to eating mostly whole foods while minimizing intake of processed cakes, cookies, and chips. But it's not necessarily about reducing calories. Those in the study who followed a DASH-style diet actually ate, on average, more than 250 extra calories a day compared with those who consumed a lot more high-fat meats, cheeses, and junk food.
"We have a hard time explaining that," admitted Berz, since it goes against the calories in/calories out theory of weight gain.
On the other hand, the girls who were better eaters were more physically active and watched less TV -- two factors that also help protect against obesity.
In fact, there were other differences in the study between those who followed DASH versus those who did not. The DASH girls were more likely to be white, not black, and more likely to come from families with higher incomes.
While Berz says he and his colleagues tried to factor in all of these differences between teens who followed DASH and the non-DASH group, "itís possible," he adds, "that these lifestyle factors also contributed to the findings."
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