Being significantly overweight does more than make youngsters targets for teasing and bullying. It can result in potentially serious health problems. Obese kids are more likely to have metabolic syndrome, marked by high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose level, excess fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart disease and stroke as well as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute.
It’s a growing problem in kids — and no wonder considering Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years. But there’s good news: University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Touro University California researchers found there’s a way to reverse metabolic syndrome in children in fewer than 10 days.
It’s not it a drug and doesn’t even depend on weight loss. Instead, the “treatment” is simply not eating much sugar.
The research team also found that getting most sugar out of the diet had an impact whether youngsters lost weight or ate fewer calories, indicating the strongest evidence so far that it is sugar itself that may contribute to metabolic syndrome, according to Robert Lustig, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and lead author of the study.
“This study definitively shows that sugar is metabolically harmful not because of its calories or its effects on weight; rather, sugar is metabolically harmful because it’s sugar,” Lustig said.
The youngsters who participated in the research were identified through the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health Clinic Clinic at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital. Doctors, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, and psychologists at this interdisciplinary obesity clinic target metabolic dysfunction rather than weight loss to improve the health of significantly overweight children.
Latino and African-American youth, who are at the highest risk for health problems associated with metabolic syndrome, were recruited for the study. The forty-three obese kids who participated were between the ages of 9 and 18 and each had metabolic syndrome as well as one or more other associated chronic metabolic disorders, such as hypertension, high triglyceride levels, or a fatty liver.
The researchers measured the youngsters’ fasting blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and glucose tolerance at the start of the study. Then the kids were sent home with nine days of food, including all snacks and beverages.
Although the study menu restricted added sugar, it allowed fruit. Total dietary sugar was reduced from 28 to 10 percent, and fructose (the natural sugar found in high quantities in fruit juice and honey) was reduced from 12 to 4 percent of total calories.
In order to study sugar’s impact, as opposed to weight loss, on metabolic syndrome, the researchers made sure the study participants consumed the same amount of calories and carbohydrates the youngsters normally ate on their regular home diets. Bagels and pasta were included in the menu, along with favorite “kid foods” like turkey hot dogs, potato chips, and pizza. However, sugar-loaded cereals, pastries, and sweetened yogurt were eliminated.
The researchers aimed for weight stability, not weight loss. The children in the study weighed themselves each day, and the youngsters were given more low-sugar foods if they lost pounds. The youngsters didn’t seem to miss the sugar in their food at all and they said they felt fuller and less hungry on the study diet.
“When we took the sugar out, the kids started responding to their satiety cues,” said researcher Jean-Marc Schwarz, PhD, of the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Touro University California. “They told us it felt like so much more food, even though they were consuming the same number of calories as before, just with significantly less sugar. Some said we were overwhelming them with food.”
After being on the sugar-restricted diet for just nine days, the research team checked the participants’ metabolic health – and found virtually every aspect was remarkably improved without a change in weight and without exercising, either.
For example, blood pressure was lower and, on average, triglycerides plummeted by 33 points, and LDL cholesterol (known as the “bad” cholesterol) fell by 10 points. Fasting blood glucose dropped by 5 points, insulin levels were cut by one-third, and liver function tests improved, too.
“This study demonstrates that ‘a calorie is not a calorie,’” said Lustig. “Where those calories come from determines where in the body they go. Sugar calories are the worst, because they turn to fat in the liver, driving insulin resistance, and driving risk for diabetes, heart, and liver disease. This has enormous implications for the food industry, chronic disease, and healthcare costs.”
Not only were the results dramatic, but they were consistent with all the research subjects. “These findings support the idea that it is essential for parents to evaluate sugar intake and to be mindful of the health effects of what their children are consuming,” Schwarz added.
April 04, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN