According to a new study, cutting meat and animal products from the diet lowers the risk of heart disease in children and adolescents who are obese.
Obesity increases the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, as well as a host of other health problems.
Published in the The Journal of Pediatrics, the study asked 28 obese American children and teens aged 9-18 to eat either a vegan or low-meat American Heart Association (AHA) diet for four weeks.
Consumption of animal protein was cut from 42 g to 2.24 g a day as part of the vegan diet, and resulted in major decreases in weight, total cholesterol, body mass index, myeloperoxidase and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein – the latter two in particular are common indicators of heart disease.
In comparison, those on the low-meat AHA diet showed improvements only in select areas, such as weight and waist circumference.
The US has some of the worst figures for childhood obesity in the world. Obesity rates in children aged 6-11 have doubled there over the past three decade, and quadrupled for adolescents aged 12-19.
Lead researcher Dr Michael Macknin, of the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital in Ohio, said the findings of the study showed eating less meat and more plant-based foods could be “an effective lifestyle modification” to help reverse risk factors for heart disease.
“We’ve known that plant-based diets are beneficial in adults in preventing and possibly reversing heart disease. This study shows that the same may be true in children too, though more studies are needed,” he added.
“Cardiovascular disease begins in childhood. If we can see such significant improvements in a short four-week study, imagine the potential for improving long-term health into adulthood if a whole population of children began to eat these diets regularly.”