The study, published in Health Affairs, analysed the links between a variety of foods and drinks and weight status in a group of more than 4,600 children and teens from the UK – finding that the characteristics or cooking processes of certain foods appear responsible for some of the negative effects.
"Potato chips are one of the most obesity-promoting foods for young people to consume," said senior author Professor Eric Finkelstein from the Duke Global Health Institute – who noted that other problematic foods included butter and margarine, breaded or coated chicken or fish, French fries, processed meats, refined grains such as white bread, desserts and sweets, and milk and soda.
The team noted that the findings suggest that certain characteristics or cooking processes – rather than the actual foods themselves – may be behind the obesity association.
For example, they noted that liquid calories have been shown to be more obesity-promoting than calories from solid foods – perhaps because beverages are typically less satiating than food.
In addition, they noted that while both potato chips and French fries are on the ‘bad’ list, potatoes themselves, when boiled or mashed without using oil, are highly satiating and contain a number of essential nutrients and that uncoated chicken and fish are not associated with weight gain while those that are coated are.
"Our findings support policies that aim to reduce the intake of specific food items and efforts to change methods of cooking and processing food," said Finkelstein.
Finkelstein and his team looked at a set of data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the United Kingdom which showed the level of consumption of 27 foods and beverages by a group of 4,646 young people age 7-13, in addition to their physical activity and weight.
Children completed a food diary and had their height and weight measured at ages 7, 10 and 13, and their activity levels were measured with a device that calculates the duration and intensity of physical activity.
“When we considered all dietary factors and physical activity levels simultaneously, we found that foods with the largest positive associations with three-year excess weight gain were fat spread (butter or margarine), coated (breaded or battered) poultry, potatoes cooked in oil (French fries, roasted potatoes, and potato chips), coated fish, processed meats, other meats, desserts and sweets, milk, and sugar-sweetened beverages,” reported the team – who noted that at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day was associated with healthy weight levels.
“Foods associated with weight loss were whole grains and high-fibre cereals,” they said.
Finkelstein said the findings study support policy efforts underway in several countries around healthier school meals, limiting sales of super-sized sugar-sweetened beverages, and school- or community-based physical activity opportunities.
“These results provide evidence for targeting specific food and beverage groups in efforts to influence weight outcomes,” concluded the authors.
Source: Health Affairs
Volume 34, Number 11, Pages 1940-1948, doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0434
“Consumption Of Specific Foods And Beverages And Excess Weight Gain Among Children And Adolescents”
Authors: Di Dong, et al