Based on the body of science, many health and wellness experts consider that being overweight or obese increases a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as other obesity-related disorders like joint disease and cancer. However, not all obese people have elevated blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Other than genetics, did you ever wonder why some overweight/obese people are metabolically healthy while others are not?
Although the jury is still out and this is not a clinical trial, a new study indicates that eating a higher quality diet, one consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, may be a critical factor determining whether an overweight individual will develop risk factors for cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes.
Researchers used National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data (2007–2008; 2009–2010) to compare diet quality between metabolically healthy (< two abnormal values for blood pressure, triglycerides, fasting glucose and HDL-cholesterol) and metabolically abnormal obese adolescents and adults. Diet quality was assessed using the 2005 Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2005) that assigned a score indicating level of compliance with the Dietary Guidelines. Results showed:
- Obese adolescents (age 12-18) and adult women (age 19-44) who were considered metabolically healthy had better quality diets as indicated by higher HEI-2005 scores compared to those who had an abnormal metabolic profile.
- Metabolically healthy obese adolescents had higher milk consumption scores, indicating better compliance with the recommendation to eat three servings of milk, yogurt or cheese each day. They also consumed fewer calories from solid fats, alcohol and added sugars.
- Total diet quality scores did not differ between metabolically healthy and metabolically abnormal obese men 19-44 years or adults 45-85 years. However, obese men 19-44 years who were metabolically healthy consumed more milk and saturated fat than those who were metabolically-abnormal. Though more studies are needed, the authors note a recent review of observational research showing that dairy fats may not contribute to obesity or metabolic risk.
The authors conclude that making positive dietary changes early in life may have an effect on future cardiometabolic risk. This was born out by a longitudinal study in adolescent girls published earlier this year showing that girls with high consumption of dairy foods, fruits and non-starchy vegetables (vs. those with lower intakes of both) were nearly 50 percent less likely to have three or more cardiometabolic risk factors in late adolescence. So, this advice is worth considering. Here are some healthy eating tips for teens and guidance for parents who want to help their children have a healthy relationship with food.
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