Four-year-olds eat too few vegetables and too much sugar. They also bolt down lots of junk food, but children who eat more fat than others nevertheless weigh less. This is shown in a new dissertation from the Sahlgrenska Academy at Goteborg University in Sweden.
The study includes nearly 200 healthy four-year-olds in Göteborg and examines both their eating habits and their life styles. Twenty percent of the children were overweight based on their body mass index (BMI), and two percent were obese.
"Most of the children in our study come from good socioeconomic backgrounds. If the study had reflected all four-year-olds in Sweden, more children would probably have been overweight," says dietician Malin Haglund Garemo.
Analysis of the children's body build showed that weight increases was a result of the body storing more fat, but those who ate the most fat were not the ones who weighed most. Instead, children who ate less fat had higher BMIs.
"Every third child in the study ate far too little unsaturated fat, above all too little Omega-3. These children had significantly higher body weight. This supports other studies that show that obese children have shortages of Omega-3," says Malin Haglund Garemo.
Omega-3 is found in fatty fish and vegetables. Also, children who watched TV more than one hour every day had higher BMIs in the study.
The children's eating habits differed from the general recommendations for children in several other ways. The children ate an average of only 140 grams of fruit and vegetables every day, compared with the recommended 400 grams. Seventy percent of the children were getting too little iron. Twenty percent of them had insufficient calcium intake. One fourth of the children's total energy intake came from candy, ice cream, cookies, and sweet beverages.
Malin Haglund Garemo's research also shows that children with the highest insulin levels had increased the most in weight since birth. This result was most pronounced in girls. Insulin production was less heightened in girls who ate more fat.
"We plan to pursue more studies to see if the early increase in insulin is causing obesity. Such results would go against the common perception that fat causes increased insulin production as a result of insulin resistance," says Malin Haglund Garemo.