Healthy diet keeps kids’ blood pressure in check

Restricting the amount of saturated fat in the diet from infancy until age 15 years leads to “meaningful” decreases in blood pressure in children and adolescents, which could have a huge impact on future cardiovascular health, Finnish researchers report.

Dr. Harri Niinikoski from the University of Turku and colleagues found that blood pressure was lower in children and adolescents fed a low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol diet since infancy relative to children and adolescents fed a standard diet.

In the long-running study, investigators compared 540 children assigned from infancy to a dietary counseling group to 522 who did not get special diet advice.

Breastfeeding or formula was advised during the first year of life. After 12 months of age, families and children in the intervention group received regular counseling about the benefits of avoiding saturated fats, while the “control” group received basic health education routinely given at well-baby clinics and school health care; no suggestions on the use of fats were given to these families.

The researchers previously reported that dietary counseling led to diets lower in fat and saturated fat, and reduced blood cholesterol levels in children up to the age of 14.

They now report in the journal Hypertension that blood pressure, measured every year from 7 months to 15 years of age, was roughly 1 point lower in the boys and girls fed a low-saturated-fat diet since infancy compared to those fed a standard diet.

This 1-point lower blood pressure in children eating a low-fat diet, if maintained, “might have an immense effect” on future blood vessel health, the researchers point out.

The study also found that, throughout childhood, blood pressures were higher in children of parents with hypertension (high blood pressure) relative to children of parents with normal blood pressure.

“Children of hypertensive parents are already prone to higher blood pressures in early childhood,” Niinikoski and colleagues warn. The current observations “strongly emphasize” the importance of preventing high blood pressure in children, in general, and especially in those with a family history of high blood pressure, they conclude.

SOURCE: Hypertension, June 2009.

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