Local youngsters eating too much fat, study shows High-cholesterol diets may lead to obesity, adult heart trouble

November 11, 1998|By Diana K. Sugg | Diana K. Sugg,SUN STAFF

Imagine two pieces of warm cinnamon toast smeared with butter, washed down with chocolate milk. At lunch, a turkey sandwich with mayo on white bread, with a fruit cup and Coke. For an afternoon snack, ice cream with Reese's Pieces, then a fried-chicken leg, french fries and a Diet Coke for dinner. Polish it off with a vanilla/chocolate ice cream cup.

That's 24 hours in the food life of one Baltimore Girl Scout, one of about 300 local Boy and Girl Scouts surveyed by researchers. The verdict: More than half of them got too many of their daily calories from fat.

Released yesterday at the American Heart Association meeting in Dallas, the study also found that 10 percent of the children exceeded the daily recommended level of cholesterol. When researchers analyzed the kinds of fat, they found more problems. More than half the Scouts got too much of the undesirable saturated fats found in butter, red meat and cheese.

"They pretty much have turned the food pyramid upside down," said Dr. Kerry J. Stewart, the study's lead author and director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. "Instead of getting more fruits and vegetables, they're getting much more in the way of meats, milk, fats and sweets."

But the Scouts are just following patterns that researchers have seen in their peers and their parents, habits that have contributed to a worldwide epidemic of obesity. In the United States, statistics show, the prevalence of obesity has risen from about 13 percent in 1960 to 22.5 percent in 1994. Among the children Stewart's group surveyed, a quarter were obese, a fivefold increase from 1970.

Down the road, this has an impact. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death. In adults, poor diet has been linked to heart disease. Although fewer studies have been done on children, Stewart said physicians predict that children with poor diet will become adults with poor diets -- and at risk for heart disease.

Through autopsies of children who died in accidents or other causes, physicians have seen fatty streaks in the coronary arteries of children who have poor diets or high cholesterol, or who smoke. Stewart says it's believed that these fatty streaks will continue to grow and form the foundation for plaque that occurs when they are adults, blocking blood flow to the heart.

"We urge parents to take a second look at what their kids are eating," Stewart said.

Some progress has been made in the past several years. According to Dr. James I. Cleeman, coordinator of the National Cholesterol Education Program at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the U.S. population has generally cut back on intake of fats and cholesterol over the past 25 years.

But adults are taking in too many calories, Cleeman said, and children aren't getting enough exercise. Both groups must make more headway in cutting back on fats.

Trying to reverse the children's eating habits, Stewart's team at Hopkins Bayview has worked in about 10 elementary schools near the hospital for the past several years, teaching youngsters how to make better meal choices. A year ago, the team decided to also work with local Scouts. Jennifer Bass, the health program coordinator, shows the children how to make such snacks as fruit kebabs and low-fat brownies with caramel. She hauls in a replica of 5 pounds of body fat. It's a bumpy, yellow, football-sized lump.

Said Paul Hugus, 14, of Troop 124: "It was an eye-opener, like wow, that might be my stomach!"

Amber Grimes, 14, of Troop 1078, explained, "When you see it, it's really gross, and it's like, I don't want that in my arteries."

Amber says that since the Bayview group worked with her troop, she's changed what she eats, opting for a turkey sub and a salad at lunch. She's tried to tell her friends that they, too, need to switch to more healthful foods. But she said they end up coating their french fries with salt -- and sometimes cheese.

"They're like, 'I'm 14, what difference does it make to me?' " Amber said. "I learned though, that you have to start controlling it when you're young. Otherwise, it's hard to start when you're older."

Some Scouting traditions won't change -- such as Girl Scout cookies. Eight varieties are offered, but only one is a low-fat type. Last year, Girl Scouts sold 190 million boxes nationwide.

Monday night, outside the Safeway in Canton, the selling was brisk. Customers were buying lemon drops, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos and, of course, the classic Thin Mints.

"They're just like the rest of us. You try to eat well," said Sandra Fahrman, an assistant troop leader, "but sometimes, you just eat what you like."

Ideal diet

For a healthy diet, calories should break down this way: About 60 percent from complex carbohydrates such as bread, fresh fruits and vegetables. Less than 30 percent from fats such as dairy products, butter and fried foods.

About 10 percent from proteins such as lean meat, poultry and fish.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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