Heart-Healthy DASH Diet May Help Teen Girls Stay Slim

MONDAY June 6, 2011 -- An eating plan originally touted to reduce high blood pressure in adults has been found to keep adolescent girls trimmer between the ages of 9 and 19.

Researchers report that girls whose food intake most resembled the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet had the smallest gains in body mass index (BMI) over 10 years, and the lowest BMIs at the end of the follow-up period.

The DASH diet emphasizes higher consumption of low-fat dairy products; fish, chicken and lean meats; and nuts, fruits, whole grains, vegetables and legumes. Multiple studies have indicated the diet, long promoted by the American Heart Association, leads to significant blood pressure reduction.

"I think these were the results we were hoping to find," said study author Dr. Jonathan Berz, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. "It's true, on the one hand, that this is common sense. What's perhaps new is that few studies look at overall eating patterns in relation to weight gain compared to individual foods, and over a long period."

The study is published in the June issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Berz and his colleagues examined data from 2,237 girls, starting at age 9, who participated in the National Growth and Health Study and were followed for up to a decade. Data was gathered annually and each participant was given a DASH food group score based on how closely their diet resembled the DASH diet.

The girls logged their food intake once a year in three-day diet records extending for two weekdays and one weekend day. They were trained by a nutritionist to record the information using standard household measuring instruments to estimate portion sizes.

Girls with the highest DASH scores gained the least weight. They also ate more fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy products than other participants. At age 19, more girls in the lowest DASH score group had an average BMI greater than the threshold for being overweight.

Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of bariatric surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said young people tend to have better success at weight control with behavioral therapy and dietary education. But he feels the message of the study is probably lost on most Americans, who continue to grow heavier despite the prevalence of nutritional information.

Seventeen percent of American children are overweight, according to the study, and more than two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese.

"I don't necessarily feel the results are earth-shattering or incredibly impressive, but I think people have to give up on the [idea] that we can educate ourselves out of the obesity epidemic," Roslin said.

One benefit for young people who follow the DASH diet will be better overall health as they age, said Dr. Joseph Diamond, a fellow at the American Society of Hypertension.

"There's going to be less likelihood to progress to hypertension, either if they're genetically prone or because of poor lifestyle," said Diamond, also director of nuclear cardiology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "It's going to help prevent heart attack at that classic middle age, where it's so prevalent. And I think starting between 9 and 19 is the right time to do it."

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on the DASH diet.

Posted: June 2011


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