SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Decreasing the amount of sugar in obese children's diets reduced several metabolic diseases in a recent study in as little as 10 days, suggesting parents pay more attention to sugar intake than calories when making changes to their kids' diets.
Metabolic syndrome is a group of diseases that occur together, including high blood pressure, high glucose, excess fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels, that can lead to heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes, diseases associated with metabolic syndrome, are now also being found in children, researchers said, because of obesity and other conditions potentially caused by poor diets.
Researchers sought to find whether the cumulative results of metabolic disease could be blamed on obesity, calories or something else in the diet, finding that restricting sugar among children but maintaining their normal daily caloric intake reduced symptoms of metabolic disease and even resulted in weight loss.
"When we took the sugar out, the kids started responding to their satiety cues," said Dr. Jean-Marc Schwarz, a researcher at Touro University California, in a press release. "They told us it felt like so much more food, even though they were consuming the same number of calories as before, just with significantly less sugar. Some said we were overwhelming them with food."
The researchers worked with 44 children between the ages of 9 and 18, 27 were Hispanic and 16 were black, and all were obese and showed symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Participants were asked to consume a specific diet for nine days that maintained protein, fat, and carbohydrates but reduced dietary sugar from 28 percent of their diet to 10 percent.
The sugar taken out of the children's diets was replaced with starches such as bagels, cereal and pasta, though they were still permitted to eat fruit. The researchers also note the diets were intentionally dominated with "kid food" -- turkey hot dogs, potato chips and pizza -- bought at local supermarkets.
Throughout the nine-day study, participants weighed themselves and underwent testing on day 0 and day 10, or before and after started the diet. Following the diet, researchers reported decreases in blood pressure, triglycerides, bad cholesterol, fasting glucose and insulin levels, and improvement in liver function.
Although some children also exhibited weight loss, on average 1 percent of body weight throughout the study, researchers increased caloric intake to maintain weight during the study.
"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," said Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco. "This study demonstrates that 'a calorie is not a calorie.' Where those calories come from determines where in the body they go. Sugar calories are the worst, because they turn to fat in the liver, driving insulin resistance, and driving risk for diabetes, heart, and liver disease. This has enormous implications for the food industry, chronic disease, and health care costs."
The study is published in the journal Obesity.