While parents, educators and health experts continue to argue about the best ways to help children who are overweight or obese lose weight, researchers have found that just cutting back on the added sugar in diet can quickly make significant improvements to a child's health.
Forty-three children between the ages of 9 and 18 who were considered obese participated in the study, which was designed to test whether or not it was the extra weight or the added sugar that was making children unhealthy. All of the children were black or Hispanic and had at least one or more symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a condition marked by high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol and excess belly fat.
For the study, which will appear in the Journal Obesity, researchers from Benioff Children's Hospital of the University of California, San Francisco and Touro University California removed the added sugars from participants' diets and replaced them with other types of carbohydrates so that the kids' caloric intake stayed the same. So, for example, if the kids were used to eating sugar-sweetened yogurt, they were asked to replace that yogurt with bagels. Kids who snacked on pastries were given baked potato chips instead.
After 10 days, the children in the study had lost little to no weight, but they showed significant improvement in cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar — all important indicators of a child's overall health.
Prior to the study, the kids' had gotten about 27 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. Earlier this year, the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that Americans limit their consumption of added sugars to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. For the study, researchers aimed to get the kids' diets more in line with these recommendations, but without simply cutting calories altogether.
“This paper says we can turn a child’s metabolic health around in 10 days without changing calories and without changing weight — just by taking the added sugars out of their diet,” said Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at Benioff and the lead author of the study. “From a clinical standpoint, from a health care standpoint, that’s very important.”