TUESDAY, Aug. 14, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Teaching youngsters about healthy diets helps improve their blood cholesterol levels, a Finnish study finds.
The study included 540 children and their families who received dietary counseling about diets low in unhealthy saturated fats, starting when the children were seven months old. Another group of 522 children did not receive dietary counseling.
By age 14, the children in the counseling group had a small but statistically significant lower median cholesterol level, the researchers reported in the journal Circulation.
The goal of the counseling was not to reduce the total number of fat calories consumed by the children but to shift from saturated to unsaturated fats in order to reduce cholesterol intake.
"We want to emphasize that this diet is not vegetarian or even close to it," study lead author Dr. Harri Niinikoski, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Turku, said in a prepared statement. "The children were advised to use meat and fish, etc., but to choose meat and milk products lower in saturated fat."
The findings could help in efforts to promote healthier eating and other lifestyle changes in order to reduce heart attacks and strokes. Previous studies found that high blood levels of total cholesterol and "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in childhood predisposes a person to early artery damage that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
"In the long run, even a minor decrease in serum cholesterol concentrations in a large population can have a major influence on coronary heart disease," Niinikoski said.
The Nemours Foundation has more about healthy eating for children.