Eight-month-old Santiago Mendoza sits at a clinic for the obese in Bogota March 19 ,2014. Mendoza, who weighs 20 kg, will be put on a diet, therapist Salvador Palacios said. REUTERS/John Vizcaino
Eight-month-old Santiago Mendoza sits at a clinic for the obese in Bogota March 19 ,2014. Mendoza, who weighs 20 kg, will be put on a diet, therapist Salvador Palacios said. REUTERS

The latest discovery of the link between sugar consumption and health risks in obese children points to increased sugar intake as the cause for the risk of chronic metabolic diseases. In a new study, researchers found that the reduction in the consumption of sugar within nine days can reverse the impact of metabolic diseases.

In the study published in the journal Obesity, symptoms such as high cholesterol and blood pressure in obese children improved after a no-sugar diet was implemented. The researchers said that the finding significantly indicates that sugar alone is metabolically harmful, even without its calories or effects on weight.

Experts said that obese children are at risk of metabolic syndrome or a cluster of conditions such as increased blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, high blood glucose level and abnormal cholesterol levels. These conditions can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

In the study, sugar has also been found to contribute to metabolic syndrome in children, according to Dr Robert Lustig, lead author and paediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco.

There are also other diseases linked with metabolic syndrome, including the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes, which children can potentially acquire. These diseases have previously been unknown in the paediatric population, according to the researchers from the UC San Francisco and Touro University California.

“These findings support the idea that it is essential for parents to evaluate sugar intake and to be mindful of the health effects of what their children are consuming," Lustig said.

In the study, young Latino and African-American participants were observed, as they were considered to be at higher risk of having conditions linked with metabolic syndrome. The researchers provided food with restricted sugar, including snacks and beverages, to 43 obese children, aged between 9 and 18, for nine days.

Sugar was substituted with starch to keep the same level of fat, calorie, carbohydrate and protein of the participants’ home diets before the experiment. The researchers provided the participants with “kid foods” such as potato chips, pizza and turkey hotdogs, which can all be found in local supermarkets.

The participants reported that they have felt like having “much more food” even they consumed the same number of calories on their previous diet.

“Some said we were overwhelming them with food," said Jean-Marc Schwarz from the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Touro University California.

After the nine-day no-sugar diet, improvements in the metabolic health of the children, without changes on their weight, have been observed. Some of the important improvements were the decrease of their LDL-cholesterol or "bad" cholesterol by 10 percent and the improvement of their liver function tests.

The researchers also found that the fasting blood glucose reduced by 5 percent, and the levels of insulin were curbed by one-third. "All of the surrogate measures of metabolic health got better, just by substituting starch for sugar in their processed food -- all without changing calories or weight or exercise," Lustig said.

Lustig describes sugar calories as the “worst” type of calories to affect the metabolic health of children, as it can turn into fat in the liver and drive insulin resistance as well as the risk of developing diabetes, heart and liver disease. He added that the study has an “enormous implications for the food industry, chronic disease, and health care costs."

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