Diets low in saturated fats are safe for children.
THE STUDY AND RESULTS Low-fat diets have been shown to not interfere with growth, but it was unknown if they might damage neurological development. Still, researchers believed that if children's fat consumption were limited early in life, this might help reduce the risk of later developing cardiovascular disease. So Finnish researchers followed nearly 500 children from the age of seven months to 5 years in one town. Parents of about half the children were counseled on how to limit fat and cholesterol in the children's diets. The other parents were given the usual health information provided to all Finnish families. The counseling was designed to maintain children's fat intake at 30 to 35 percent of calories and to limit cholesterol to less than 200 milligrams a day. Parents were also taught to add two or three teaspoons of soft margarine or vegetable oil (mainly low-erucic-acid rapeseed oil) to the daily diet of the 12- to 24-month-old children to maintain adequate fat intake. After the age of 5, the children were tested. Children whose parents had received counseling ate less fat on average than their counterparts and scored just as well in speech and language tests, gross motor skills and visual motor development.
WHAT'S NEW This is the first long-term study that evaluates the effect of low-fat diets on a child's developing brain.
CAVEATS Researchers were careful to maintain at least some fat consumption because certain fats are known to be necessary for brain development.
BOTTOM LINE A diet that includes only 30 to 35 percent of its calories from fat is safe for children.
FIND THIS STUDY Aug. 23/30 Journal of the American Medical Association or www.jama.com.