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For Latino teens, small dietary changes may reduce diabetes risk

April 7, 2009 |  4:33 pm

Small changes can often yield big results, health experts have been saying for years, and here's more proof: By slightly reducing sugar and increasing fiber, Latino teenagers may lessen some risk factors linked with Type 2 diabetes.

I43etnkfLatino teens (average age 15) were part of a study looking at the effect minor dietary and activity changes over 16 weeks had on their metabolism and body composition. Of the 54 Los Angeles County teens who participated, some were assigned to a nutrition group, attending one nutrition class a week; some were assigned to a nutrition and strength training group, taking one nutrition class per week and doing two strength training classes per week; and others were in a control group that received no health-related interventions. The goals of the nutrition classes were to get the teens to decrease added sugar and increase fiber consumption.

Researchers found that 55% of all participants cut their sugar consumption by 47 grams per day — the equivalent of one can of soda — and 59% of all teens upped their fiber by an average of 5 grams a day—the amount in about half a can of beans. That decreased sugar intake accounted for an average 33% decrease in insulin secretion. More fiber resulted in an average 10% less visceral fat, which is known to increase the risk of diseases such as diabetes.

And yes, that was all participants — even the ones in the control group. Researchers believe they might have made the dietary changes because they knew the purpose of the study and may have been more motivated to make changes.

The authors cited other research that found Latino children are more insulin resistant than white children, making them more likely to develop chronic diseases linked to obesity. In the study, they wrote: "Modest changes in sugar and fiber consumption ... could lead to substantial improvements in adiposity and metabolic parameters. Furthermore, given that the control group demonstrated similar dietary changes as the intervention groups, our results suggest that intensive interventions may not be necessary to achieve modifications in sugar and fiber intake."

The study, conducted by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at USC and the L.A. County-USC Medical Center, appears in the April issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Paul O'Driscoll / Bloomberg News

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