In a study presented in March at the American Heart Association's annual conference on Cardiovascular Disease, Epidemiology and Prevention in Phoenix, UCLA researchers reported that the Pritikin Program helped overweight children improve not only traditional risk factors for heart disease but also newly discovered risk factors produced by fat cells.
For the first time ever, researchers tracked beneficial changes in what they termed "novel" risk factors - chemicals that fat tissue churns out, called adipocyte-derived factors, which are directly linked with the growth of fatty streaks, or plaque build-up, in the coronary arteries.
The Perils of Fat Tissue
"We've known for a long time that obesity is related to the development of heart disease, but we really didn't know why." That's partly because for years scientists thought fat tissue was dormant, just a storage tank for excess calories." Now we know it's actually an endocrine organ, a very active factory that pumps out chemicals that stimulate the growth of plaque," commented lead investigator Dr. James Barnard at UCLA Department of Physiological Science.
The scientists measured pre- and post-blood samples of overweight and obese youngsters, ages 9 to 15, participating in a two-week family program at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa
The kids were at Pritikin with their parents to learn how eat nutritiously (lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and moderate amounts of lean protein) and make physical fitness a daily, enjoyable part of their lives.
Results of Pritikin Family Program
After just two weeks of following the Pritikin Program, traditional risk factors for heart disease like LDL "bad" cholesterol and insulin levels plummeted." The scientists also tracked dramatic improvements in fat-tissue-derived risk factors, such as leptin and TNFa.
Teenage Heart Disease
Barnard and his team at UCLA were motivated to conduct their study because of research published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation in 2002 - autopsy studies of nearly 3,000 people aged 15 to 34 who had died of external causes like car accidents." The autopsies revealed that plaque build-up in the arteries begins as early as the teenage years, and the fatter the teenager, the more advanced the disease.**" " "
"Leaders nationwide, including Bill Clinton, are talking about the childhood obesity epidemic, but I've heard many parents say, "Well, being overweight is not such a big deal.'" Our new research shows that childhood obesity is in fact very problematic." Fat tissue produces chemicals that we now know are directly correlated with the development of heart disease." Obese children are going to end up with heart disease far earlier in life - in their 30s and 40s, maybe even earlier," cautions Dr. Barnard.
The good news, he emphasizes, is that lifestyle changes like those taught at the Pritikin Longevity Center can induce beneficial results, and in a very short period of time - just two weeks." What's more, the kids didn't need to lose a lot of weight before reaping remarkable rewards for their hearts.
"Getting Healthy Happens Very Quickly."
"It's a hopeful message for both kids and adults," says Barnard." "Even if weight loss happens slowly, getting healthy happens very quickly."
The Pritikin Family Program, held every summer since 2002 at the Pritikin Longevity Center, is lead by Pritikin's physicians, dietitians, and exercise physiologists." "Our goal is teaching families how fun and rewarding healthy living can be," says Director of Nutrition Jeffrey Novick, MS, RD." Activities including kid-friendly cooking classes, noncompetitive exercise classes, field trips to mall food courts to learn how to make good choices, tennis lessons, and afternoons at the beach.
** Circulation, 2002; 105: 2712.