Friday, January 26, 2007

Study: Children Need More Dietary Fats

An email this morning provided a link to a recently published paper at the Göteborg University Library, Nutrition and health in 4-year-olds in a Swedish well-educated urban community. It is the dissertation of PhD candidate Malin H. Garemo, designed to "analyze nutrition in healthy 4-year-olds´ in a Western urban community in Sweden in relation to socio-economy, life style and different aspects of health in order to improve the understanding of possible associations."

As reported in The Local, an english language newspaper in Sweden, the study showed "that one in five four-year-olds have a body mass index (BMI) that is considered too high, while 2 percent are obese. But children who regularly eat fatty foods are not the ones with a high BMI. It was instead found that a third of the children need to consume more saturated fat." [emphasis mine]

From the abstract, we learn the children were also deficient for essential nutrients, vitmain D, omega-3 fatty acids and iron; we also learn that "higher BMI was associated with lower fat and higher sucrose intake;" and these children were not consuming more calories than required for their energy needs.

Even more alarming in the findings, "girls had significantly higher metabolic markers than the boys. In girls, the HOMA ß-cell function was negatively associated with the intake of fat and positively with the intake of carbohydrates."

Folks, these were four-year-olds - not teens, not adults - but very young children!

The summary says it all "A lower fat intake was associated with higher BMI and higher HOMA ß-cell function. fS-insulin and insulin resistance were associated to increased growth rate from birth to the age of 4 (upward centile crossing). Risk factors for the metabolic syndrome can be identified already in healthy 4-year olds, especially in girls."

How can that be?

When children are found deficient in vitamin D, the first things that comes to mind is the diet; it may be lacking enough eggs, butter, cream, fish, liver and/or whole milk and dairy foods like yogurt. That, and depending upon the time of the year, inadequate exposure to sunlight.

When children are found deficient in n-3 fatty acids, the first things that come to mind is the diet may be lacking enough eggs, alpine cheese, fish, oil-packed fish, nuts, but butters/oils and vegetables like squash.

And when children are deficient in iron, the first things that come to mind is the diet may be lacking enough eggs, green vegetables, meats, liver, and.or beans.

In this review, the children were lacking all three of the above and lower fat intake was inversely associated with higher BMI too.

If we review these major deficiencies in the diet of these children, and consider the conclusion they need more dietary fat and less carbohydrates (specifically sugar), it's easier to understand the importance dietary fats have in growth and development for children.

Their little bodies are akin to perpetual energy, and constantly needing a much higher level of calories than just looking at them would suggest. Honestly, who would think a little 3-or-4-foot kid would need as much as 1,500-calories a day?

That's because they're constantly in a state of growth - whether it be physically growing taller, physically laying down muscle or fat stores, or internally growing nerves or blood vessels - they're always growing something, and that requires not only calories for energy, but specific building blocks to make it happen properly - vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids, and fatty acids.

In previous generations the focus was mainly on getting and providing enough food to meet these energy needs; today we've modified our view and extrapolated our notions about a "healthy diet" - carbohydrate-rich, low-fat - to our children. Not a day goes by that there isn't an article or segment in the news that we need to feed our kids less fat and more "good" carbohydrates.

But, as this study found - lower fat, calorie compensated with more carbohydrates; that is an energy balanced diet - is inadequate for essential nutrients and is leading to profound metabolic consequences, especially in girls. The changes noted for girls are those that lead to PCOS, infertility, diabetes and a host of other health ailments later in life including cardiovascular disease and some cancer.

But Im pretty darn sure we're going to continue to read and hear we need to cut fat out of our children's diets and feed them more carbohydrate; afterall, a proper diet is plant-based, low-fat, with limited artery-clogging animal-based foods.

Or is it?


  1. I'm afraid the post got a little technical. The Wikipedia states that "The homeostatic model assessment (HOMA) is a method used to quantify insulin resistance and beta-cell function. It was first described under the name HOMA by Matthews et al in 1985". This was the best reference to HOMA ß-cell function that I could find. If I understand the blog, 4 year old Swedish children, especially girls, are showing signs of insulin resistance and therefore possibly diabetes in their futures.

    When did we start to forget nutritional requirements like vitamins and minerals and instead allow the nutrition czars to mandate low fat for all, damn the consequences. It boggles the mind that most Americans can tell you their cholesterol numbers, yet are unaware that their diets are deficient in Vitamin D, magnesium, Omega 3 fats, protein, etc. My suspicion is that nutrient level testing would probably save more lives as well as improving overall health than any number of cholesterol tests.

  2. Anonymous5:55 PM

    I was checking both the study you linked and the article in the Local, and found a discrepancy. One states kids need more unsaturated fat, the other states they need more saturated fat? Any clues here? Since both have been translated, I am wondering what the study really said. Wanted to use this in a class I am doing...

  3. Healthy fats are really good for us and not just children but hopefully we can help childred eat more.