Teenagers should stick to low fat diets to prevent build-up of dangerous abdominal fat – irrespective of how much they exercise or how many calories they consume, according to a new study.
The paper, published in Clinical Nutrition, focused on 224 participants in the Spanish HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) study, whose abdominal fat had been measured using dual-x-ray absorptiometry, alongside their dietary and physical activity habits.
They found that a high proportion of dietary fat could lead to excessive abdominal fat, as well as overall body fat, regardless of physical activity or total calorie intake. Abdominal fat is thought to be more harmful than that accumulated elsewhere, and has been associated with higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
“Until now it was thought that even with an unbalanced diet, you somehow compensated for it if you got plenty of physical exercise. In this study we have shown that this is not the case,” said lead researcher Idoia Labayen, tenured lecturer in nutrition and food science at the UPV/EHU’s Faculty of Pharmacy.
“…These results point to dietary fat content as a key risk factor in abdominal adiposity in adolescents, no matter how much physical exercise they do.”
The researchers divided dietary intakes into three ranges according to participants’ consumption, with high fat diets defined as those in which fat accounted for more than 41.4% of total dietary energy; a middle range of 33.6% to 41.4%; and the lower fat group consuming less than 33.6% of total energy from fat.
Types of fat
The study also looked at the different types of fat consumed, and found that there was no significant association between saturated fat and either total or abdominal fat – but they did find a significant association between consumption of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats and both total and abdominal fat. The researchers pointed out that the study was conducted in Spain, where diets are characterised by relatively high proportions of unsaturated fats.
The researchers said a focus on adolescents’ dietary and physical activity levels was particularly important considering that they were starting to make their own decisions about food, and many were also giving up sporting activities around this time.
Source: Clinical Nutrition
“High fat diets are associated with higher abdominal adiposity regardless of physical activity in adolescents; the HELENA study”
Authors: Idoia Labayen, Jonatan R. Ruiz, Francisco B. Ortegab, Inge Huybrechtsd, Gerardo Rodríguez, David Jiménez-Pavón, Romana Roccaldo, Esther Nova, Kurt Widhalm, Anthony Kafatos, Dénés Molnar, Odysseas Androutsos, Luis A. Moreno.