A new study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health shows that the answer to reduced weight gain in adulthood is a high-quality diet in adolescence.
[Photo: Dr. David Jacobs]
The study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, followed 2,656 young people for 10 years, tracking their diet and weight starting at age 15.
“People with a healthier diet at 15 gained less weight over the next 5 and 10 years,” said lead author Dr. David Jacobs.
A “healthier diet” refers to an established eating pattern developed by Dr. Jacobs and his colleagues called the A Priori Diet Quality Score (APDQS). APDQS is similar to the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes high consumption of vegetables and whole grains, and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).
Data from Jacobs’ study came from Project EAT, a Minnesota study that screened middle and secondary students at 15 for weight and BMI, and followed up with them at 20 and 25 years old. They also surveyed participants diet patterns to determine APDQS. That information allowed researchers to take a comprehensive look at how diet and weight changed over time and how the factors influenced one another.
“Those who had a higher-quality diet were not thinner at age 15, but became thinner by age 20 and 25, particularly if they reinforced their tendency to eat more closely to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as time passed,” Dr. Jacobs said.
That weight change was independent of energy intake, eating behavior, physical activity, and cigarette smoking.
“Our findings suggest several obesity cases would be avoided by following the APDQS or DGA advice,” Dr. Jacobs said.
The study also found dietary choices track as strongly as physical factors for cardiovascular disease.
“Food preferences and attitudes may be established as early as age 15,” Dr. Jacobs said. “The choices adolescents make during that stage establish a lifetime diet pattern, which could influence weight gain over time.”
Moving forward, health professionals should develop interventions for adolescents to establish and solidify eating behaviors that align with a higher-quality diet. Parents should help their children to achieve a higher quality diet by their teen years, recognizing tastes differ as children go through childhood.