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Skipping meals can predispose 6-8 year olds to increased obesity and cardiometabolic risk

Posted:  Friday, December 26, 2014

Skipping main meals could cost children their health immediately and not just later in adulthood. Finnish researchers in their new study have found that children who skip main meals are more likely to have excess body fat and increased cardiometabolic risk at the tender age of 6 to 8 years.

Originally published in 3 journals, namely the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, International Journal of Obesity and European Journal of Nutrition, the study found that the consumption of saturated fat, salt and sucrose among young children was higher than recommended.

The researchers investigated dietary habits, eating behaviour, and dietary determinants of excess body adiposity and cardio-metabolic risk in 512 Finnish girls and boys aged between 6 to 8 years participating in the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study. Cardiometabolic risk was assessed by a continuous metabolic risk score computed using Z-scores of waist circumference, fasting serum insulin, fasting plasma glucose, triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and the mean of systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

The researchers found high body fat among children skipping meals and eating more protein, and those displaying uncontrolled eating behaviour. Among the children evaluated, most of them consumed unhealthy diets and did not meet the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. Less than half of the children ate all three main meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner – on a daily basis; instead snacks were the main source of energy and sucrose. A quarter of the children drank sugary drinks daily. The children recorded higher intakes of saturated fat, sucrose and salt, and lower than recommended intakes of dietary fibre, vitamin D and iron.

"Based on the findings, sticking to regular meals seems to be crucial for preventing overweight and cardio-metabolic diseases early on in childhood," said the researchers. They suggest healthy substitutions to high fat foods, for example, fat free milk instead of sugary drinks, fish over red meat, and regular fat vegetable oils over processed margarines.

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