Cutting saturated fat in childrens’ diets reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood, a University of Otago study has found.
Lead author Dr Lisa Te Morenga, of the University’s Department of Human Nutrition, says elevated cholesterol has been linked to cardiovascular disease in adults and preclinical markers of atherosclerosis (the build-up of fats and cholesterol on artery walls) in children which increases risk of cardiovascular disease.
The joint University of Otago and World Health Organization (WHO) study, just published in Plos One, found that reducing intakes of foods rich in saturated fat results in a significant reduction in cholesterol levels throughout childhood without any evidence of harmful effects on growth and development.
Dr Te Morenga and colleagues came to their conclusions following a review and meta-analysis of international data from published studies that involved male and female children, adolescents and young adults between the ages of 2 to 19 years.
Cardiovascular disease accounts for 31% of premature deaths globally and imposes a huge economic burden on countries in terms of health-care costs and lost productivity. It is predicted that increases in non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, over the next 20 years could cost up to 75 percent of global gross domestic product.
While fat is an important part of children’s diets, the greatest benefits on cholesterol levels were seen when saturated fat was replaced with unsaturated fat. Results further suggest that the greatest reduction in cholesterol occurred when saturated fat intake was less than 10% of total energy intake.
Dr Te Morenga says the study is being used by the WHO as part of the evidence base for soon-to-be released recommendations on saturated and trans-fatty acids.
“Interventions targeting reduction in saturated fat intakes amongst children and adolescents could translate into major cost savings by reducing risk of cardiovascular disease in later life,’’ she says.
High-fibre fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean meats and reduced fat dairy foods should be the core components of children’s diets, rather than highly processed fried and nutrient-poor fast foods and snacks, processed meats and fatty meats.
University of Otago