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The Efficacy of a Plant Based Diet in Reducing Metabolic Risk in Overweight or Obese Children

13 August 2016


Background: Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a group of risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and type II diabetes (T2DM). MetS has been found to be occurring with increasing frequency in younger populations, with overweight or obese children considered to be at greater risk. This special population may benefit from early intervention. The cornerstone of management in MetS is aggressive lifestyle modification typically consisting of diet and exercise. Although little is known regarding optimal dietary management in this population, recent studies suggest that there may be a role in advocating for consumption of plant based foods to reduce metabolic risk. The purpose of this systematic review is to evaluate the available literature and assess the viability of recommending a plant based diet to reduce metabolic risk in overweight or obese children.

Methods: A systematic search of the available literature on MEDLINE-Ovid, CINAHL, and Web of Science databases was conducted using the following keywords: plant based diet, children, and metabolic risk. All articles were screened with eligibility criteria for interventions involving significant components of a plant based diet, measures relevant to risk factors for metabolic syndrome, and the use of overweight or obese children as subjects. The relevant studies were then assessed for quality using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) system.

Results: The search of the literature resulted in two studies that met eligibility criteria for this systematic review. One was a randomized controlled study (RCT) and the other was a cross sectional study. The RCT reported multiple beneficial reductions from baseline in markers for CVD and T2DM in a group of obese children that were placed on a plant based diet (PBD). The cross sectional study found intake of vegetables to be associated with greater insulin sensitivity (SI), decreased hepatic fat fraction (HFF), and decreased visceral adipose tissue (VAT) in overweight or obese Latino children.

Conclusion: The commonly accepted health benefits of a plant based diet (PBD) likely extend to overweight or obese children. Consumption of plant based foods may lead to substantial benefits for this population and are low risk when there is proper education and monitoring to ensure a balanced diet. Further studies regarding long-term health effects of a PBD on overweight or obese children are needed.

Keywords: plant based diet, children, metabolic risk.


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