In the United States, 34 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 are overweight or obese. That has led policy makers and advocates to focus on controlling foods
Unhealthy lifestyle factors that begin in childhood, such as physical inactivity, lack of exercise and diet contribute to both the development of obesity and other chronic diseases, but it is unclear whether obesity itself or the associated lifestyle factors are underlying causes of cardiovascular and metabolic dysfunction and the related development of chronic disease.
A new study found that healthy-weight and obese children who participated in an intensive lifestyle modification program significantly improved their metabolic and cardiovascular health despite little weight loss, which shows that lifestyle may be a more appropriate focus on weight loss.
The authors believe their study is the first to compare the effects of changing diet and exercise in both normal-weight and obese children.
"These findings suggest that short-term lifestyle modifications through changing diet and exercise can have an immediate impact on improving risk factors such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes," said Christian Roberts, an associate research professor at the UCLA School of Nursing and the study's lead author. "This work underscores the need to focus on changing lifestyle as opposed to focusing on body weight and weight loss."
Both groups of children participated in a two-week, residential lifestyle program consisting of daily exercise and a high-fiber, low-fat, plant-based diet. Contrary to conventional wisdom that the change would only impact the obese children, both groups of children improved cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk factors similarly as a result of the intervention.
"Even if individuals are at normal weight, they may have metabolic abnormalities and this study demonstrates that health status can be significantly improved by changing lifestyle habits," Roberts said.
Study co-authors from UCLA were Ali Izadpanah, Siddhartha Angadi and R. James Barnard.
The next step for the researchers will be to perform a randomized control trial investigating the effects of lifestyle intervention in normal-weight and obese adults.