In the last 25 years, rates of childhood obesity have nearly tripled in the United States. Childhood obesity puts these children at risk of developing a wide range of chronic illnesses as adults, including heart disease. Researchers from the University of Colorado set out to determine if the type of fats consumed by children could have an impact on their obesity risk.
There were several interesting aspects of this 2015 study. First, the study featured a racially diverse group of 311 children with 39% European American, 34% African American, and 27% Hispanic American aged 7 to 12 years. Next, the investigators measured body composition and abdominal fat using a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and computed tomography scans. This form of measurement has not been widely used but provides information beyond the basic body mass index.
Via two 24-hour diet recalls, study participants were asked to report dietary intake. From the dietary recalls, total polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3s, omega-6s and saturated fatty acids (SFAs) were analysed. The investigators found the following:
- total PUFA intake was positively associated with lean muscle
- total PUFA intake was negatively associated with percentage of body fat and intra-abdominal adipose tissue
- a higher ratio of PUFAs to SFAs was associated with higher lean muscle and lower percentage of body fat
- higher intakes of omega-3s and omega-6s were positively associated with lean muscle
- results were independent of biological, environmental, and genetic predictors.
The researchers report that the ratio of PUFA to SFA is significant. Based on this study, it appears that high PUFA intake and low SFA intake may help children maintain a normal body weight. While this study was fairly small, it lends further evidence that the types of fats consumed are significant predictors of body weight and may influence later disease risk.