Food and Behaviour Research

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15 August 2007 - BBC News - Fat 'crucial' in children's diet

While parents may be increasingly worrying about childhood obesity, they must ensure their offspring eat enough fat, research from the US urges.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

This study involved only ten adults and ten children, but the methodology used was sufficient to show that children burn off dietary fats faster than adults.

The conclusion that children require a moderate fat diet to meet their energy and nutrient needs is sound. 'Low-fat' diets are not suitable for children's healthy growth and development. The most important issue, however (ignored by much of the tabloid media coverage of this story) is the *type* or *quality* of that fat.

As emphasised by the nutritional commentators here, too much saturated fat is not healthy either. Worse still are the artificial 'trans fats' found in hydrogenated vegetable oils (used in many margarines and commercially baked or processed foods).

The healthiest diets provide plenty of unsaturated fats (strictly, liquid oils). These are found in oily fish, most nuts, seeds and wholegrains, and non-hydrogenated vegetable oils. Among these, both omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturates are essential (and needed for a healthy brain, heart and immune system) - but the balance between these two types is also crucial. Most modern western-type diets contain far more omega-6 than omega-3 - and the most valuable kinds of omega-3 are found in fish and seafood.

In short - there really are 'good fats' and 'bad fats', and parents need to know the difference. As the experts cited in this article point out, anyone concerned about preventing obesity and related disorders in their children would do far better avoiding highly processed 'junk foods' (rich in sugar, salt and 'bad fats' that all prolong shelf-life) than being fooled by 'low-fat' labels.

The new study is published in the Nutrition Journal. For more details, see:

MAIN ARTICLE

Concerns about their child becoming overweight means some parents put them on low-fat diets, but the Nutrition Journal study said this was misguided.

Researchers found children burned substantially more fat than adults relative to their calorie intake. Youngsters needed that fat to grow and thrive, they argued.

Over a third of a child's energy intake should be made up of fat, the researchers at Pennsylvania State University said, a recommendation in line with UK requirements.

"Despite this, many parents and children restrict fat for health reasons," they said. "Sufficient fat must be included in the diet for children to support normal growth and development."

'Absolutely right'

All of the participants - 10 children and 10 adults - were put on the same diet, adjusted to estimated calorie requirements of each one.

During testing, none of the group led an active lifestyle. They spent their time watching films, reading, and taking occasional slow walks.

While the children did not use up more fat than adults in total, they burned up substantially more relative to the amount of energy they used, despite all participants' sedentary lifestyle.

UK nutritionists stressed that fat, as much as possible, should come from "healthy" sources such as oily fish, while chips and crisps should be cooked in olive or sunflower oil.

"Too much saturated fat in the diet, e.g. from cakes, biscuits, pastries and fatty meats, should be avoided," said Claire Williamson of the British Nutrition Foundation.

The National Obesity Forum welcomed the study

"I think this research is absolutely right," said board member Tam Fry. "Young children need more fat and energy for the whole purpose of growing and living.

"To give them low-fat and sugar-free products is a bad idea."

Tracy Kelly, of the charity Diabetes UK said: "A healthy, balanced diet should include fat.

"However, a diet high in fat, particularly saturated and trans fats, should be avoided.

"The spiralling rates of type 2 diabetes in children, a condition which traditionally affected people in middle age, are strongly linked to poor diets high in fat, sugar and salt."