Tackling Childhood Obesity With A Plant-Based Diet

David Beaver

People seem genuinely surprised when I tell them that our girls (8 and 5 at the time of writing) regularly eat a variety of fruit and vegetables, beans and even tofu, without grumbling.

Can plant-based diets work for children? As parents, our biggest fear was telling ourselves, "I'll make that for the two of us a night when we don't have the kids." That turned out to be a mistake the held us back for a while until we both started to experiment with more plant-based cooking at home and one day my wife made an early version of what turned out to be our vegan lasagne recipe and put it down in front of the kids telling them both "This is what's for dinner," and you know what: they ate the whole lot and asked for seconds!

Don't get me wrong, there are certain things that our children prefer above others. They adore bean filled enchiladas and tacos, and make-your-own pizza night is always a hit.  We have healthy snacking covered too as my wife came up with the idea of a "salad bar," which is basically jars packed with pre-chopped vegetables that can be tossed into a salad.

A plant-based diet appeals to people for a variety of reasons.  Some to protect animals, some for sustainability or environmental reasons, whilst some people east more plants in their diets for their health.  Many of my generation (30 something) have tended to switch their diets as they become adults as they may not have been brought up in a house where plant-based eating was not the norm.  However, increasingly, more and more children are learning about the benefits of plant-based nutrition.  Our daughters school have been proactive in  showing the girls how to live a healthy lifestyle while also being environmentally conscious.  We think this is a good thing as protecting our health doesn't have to begin when we hit our 30's, but rather in childhood.

There have been numerous studies on childhood obesity recently including one from America that we'll look at here.  In a sample of Adolescent volunteers between the ages 9-18 (some of whom suffering Type 2 diabetics), compared children placed on the the typical American Heart Association diet which recommends that people consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grain products, especially whole grains; choose fat-free and low-fat dairy products, legumes, poultry, and lean meats; and eat fish, preferably oily fish, at least twice a week, against a low-fat plant-based diet, as advocated by the book by leading plant based nutritionist Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

The results following the four week study where pretty conclusive with researchers recording "significant improvements in nine measures: BMI, systolic blood pressure, weight, mid-arm circumference, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and insulin, as well as two common markers of heart disease, myeloperoxidase and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein" in those children following the plant-based diet. However those on the on American Heart Association recommended diet saw drops in only 4 of these markers, weight, waist circumference, mid-arm circumference and myeloperoxidase.

Studies like this really show how important it is to eat more plants from a young age. Diets recommended by the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association are proven to not reverse disease as effectively as plant-based diets.  So with that in mind let's work together and educate our children from a young age about making healthy food and lifestyle choices.

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