Vegetarian diet in the prevention of childhood obesity ( 3/2008 - 3/2011 )
Background: Obesity is becoming a worldwide epidemic. This is particularly critical during childhood and adolescence. Dietary habits and obesity during this period of life have been linked to the development of several chronic diseases, particularly cancer, later in life. Scientists, professional societies and government agencies have placed the issue of childhood obesity prevention high in the priorities of the public health agenda. Vegetarian diets tend to be low in total energy intake and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and essential fatty acids, among other nutrients. It is sound to think that a vegetarian diet, followed in the early years will result in lower rates of obesity. In fact, many adolescents, willing to loose weight, adopt a vegetarian diet spontaneously. However, this association will be due to reverese causation. Methods: Given the high prevalence of obesity in childhood and adolescence and the negative effects on many health outcomes later in life, this study will assess the effects of a vegetarian diet on the risk of obesity during adolescence. We will access a large data set of school aged children (7 to 18 years) attending schools in Southern California, with a comprehensive assessment of their dietary habits by food questionnaire and dietary recalls. The dietary paterns and anthropometric measurements were assessed on about 2,000 children or adolescents for a study of blood pressue conducted in the 1980s with a government grant. These students had a wide range of dietary patterns varying from vegetarian (1/3) to low-meat eaters (1/3) to regular meat eaters (1/3). We will relate frequency of meat intake and adherence to a vegetarian diet pattern with body weight, body mass index and rate of obesity.