Low-carbohydrate diet good for overweight girls?

Being overweight at a young age could profoundly affect a young girl as she ages. UAB researchers examine the role of a low-carbohydrate diet.

A low-carbohydrate diet may help prepubescent girls avoid some risks associated with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease, according to research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

carbs2_storyA reduction in dietary carbohydrates improved various metabolic indicators in overweight African-American girls even in the absence of weight-loss, according to their findings published online Dec. 1, 2011, in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition.

The research team placed 26 obese African-American girls ages 9-14 on one of two diets. One diet drew 43 percent of its calories from carbohydrates, and the other drew 57 percent of calories from carbohydrates. After five weeks, the lower-carb group showed a reduction in lipids, such as triglycerides and cholesterol, along with better glucose control and insulin response and an improvement in reproductive hormones.

“Our goal was to understand better the effects of a low- or high-carbohydrate diet on girls before puberty, an important time in a young girl’s physical development,” said Krista Casazza, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences in the UAB School of Health Professions and first author on the study. “There is evidence that the prepubescent years are vitally important for young girls in terms of body composition and the development of good bone density.”

Casazza says that a diet high in carbohydrates sets off a metabolic cascade of events, such as an increase in blood serum glucose and insulin and an increase of lipids. These events are associated with an elevated risk of obesity, with all of its implications of increased risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

“Understanding the role carbohydrates play in children’s development is important,” Casazza says. “If we can decrease exposure to the risk factors for disease at an early age, perhaps we can reduce the cumulative risk associated with these diseases over time.”

Casazza is embarking on a new study of girls ages 7-11, recruiting 100 African-American and Caucasian girls. It will examine further the role of carbohydrates in metabolic development, along with its role in weight-loss and in the development of bone mass.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Thrasher Research Fund and the UAB Center for Women’s Reproductive Health.

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