New Findings on Preventing Teen Obesity

New research is shedding surprising light on the most effective way to prevent obesity among American teenagers. Instead of the "calories in/calories out" approach that has long been favored for weight loss, an Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine study published June 6 said that the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet may be more effective at preventing the gradual weight gain that leads to obesity.

The DASH diet centers around high consumption of low-fat dairy products, fish, chicken, and lean cuts of beef, as well as nuts, fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. This is the diet that's recommended by the US government in its dietary guidelines, says study author Dr. Jonathan Berz, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. "And I absolutely think this highlights what we felt in our gut is true -- that it can prevent extra weight gain over time."

The research, which surveyed more than 2,300 girls on their eating habits during 10 annual visits beginning at age 9, found that those whose eating patterns were closest to the DASH diet had an average body mass index of 24 (considered a healthy weight) by age 18, compared with a BMI of 26 (considered overweight) for those who didn't follow DASH.

The diet plan boils down to eating mostly whole foods while minimizing intake of processed cakes, cookies, and chips. But it's not necessarily about reducing calories. Those in the study who followed a DASH-style diet actually ate, on average, more than 250 extra calories a day compared with those who consumed a lot more high-fat meats, cheeses, and junk food.

Obesity affects around 18 percent of American teenagers, according to a US News magazine report released in March. Click here to learn more about the data around childhood obesity, and how to assess your child's risk.

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