Although studies have indicated that a low-fat, vegan diet may help to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) in adults, the benefits associated with this diet for children are largely unknown. However, new research published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggests that a plant-based, low-fat vegan diet can significantly reduce risk factors for CVD in obese children.

In the prospective, randomized four-week trial, 28 children between the ages of 9–18 with a last recorded BMI greater than the 95th percentile for age and sex and most recent total cholesterol >169mg/dL were enrolled and assigned to a plant-based (PB) or the American Heart Association (AHA) diet. The PB diet participants were instructed to avoid all animal products and added fat, plus limiting intake of nuts and avocado. The AHA diet was permitted 30% of calories from total fat, 7% of calories from saturated fat, <300mg of cholesterol, and <1500mg of sodium per day. A parent or guardian of the participant was also assigned to follow the same diet given to his/her child to assist with dietary compliance.

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After four weeks, the children on the PB diet showed statistically significant decreases in BMI, systolic blood pressure, weight, mid-arm circumference, total cholesterol, LDL-C, hsCRP, MPO, and insulin. The adults on this diet had statistically significant decreases in all of these measures except insulin. The children on the AHA diet had statistically significant mean decreases in weight, waist circumference, mid-arm circumference, HDL-C, and MPO; the adults exhibited significant decreases in BMI, weight, and HDL-C. Both diet groups had significant increases in HbA1c.

While the cardiovascular benefits of the PB diet were present in children and adults in the study, many reported difficulty in purchasing the necessary food for their diet compared to the AHA group. Lead author Michael Macknin, MD, a staff pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic, states that greater access to foods in a PB diet is needed for CVD prevention in both children and adults.

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