Eating behaviours at age 7 influence cardiometabolic health at age 10

Is it possible, already in childhood, to find an association between eating behaviours and cardiometabolic risk? This was the question asked by a study by the Instituto de Saúde Pública da Universidade do Porto (ISPUP) that sought to assess the association between children’s eating behaviours at seven years of age and cardiometabolic health at 10.

The study concluded that this association exists. Children who, at seven years of age, eat more slowly and have a greater response to satiety, for example, leaving food on the plate when they are satisfied, have a lower cardiometabolic risk at 10. Those who feel more pleasure in eating and respond more to food, constantly asking for food, have an increased cardiometabolic risk, years later.

“We know that food plays a crucial role in preventing cardiovascular diseases, which are the culmination of a gradual process of atherosclerosis – the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries, which hinder the passage of blood. This process begins early in life and only shows clinical manifestations decades later”, says Sarah Warkentin, the first author of the research, coordinated by Andreia Oliveira.

“Considering this context, we wanted to verify whether it was possible to find an association between eating behaviours and cardiometabolic risk in childhood”, the researcher says.

To assess this association, the researchers used data from almost 3,000 children in the Generation XXI cohort – a longitudinal study developed by ISPUP that has followed, since 2005, 8,600 participants who were born in public maternity hospitals in the Metropolitan Area of Porto.

Children’s eating behaviours, at seven years old, were evaluated through a questionnaire applied to parents, and different cardiometabolic parameters of the children at 10 years old, such as triglycerides, HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) and resistance to insulin from blood samples were analysed. In addition to these parameters, systolic blood pressure and waist circumference were also used to define the group of children with the highest cardiometabolic risk at 10 years of age.

The association between eating behaviours and cardiometabolic risk is dependent on the child’s weight

The research, published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, shows that there is an association between eating behaviors at seven years of age and cardiometabolic risk at 10.

However, “the association between eating behaviours and cardiometabolic risk three years later is highly dependent on the child’s weight, an important predictor of cardiometabolic health”, stresses Sarah Warkentin.

According to the researcher, “it is important to know the different eating behaviours during childhood. These behaviors are greatly influenced by the parents and the environment in which the child lives”.

“Understanding the influence of eating behaviours on children’s cardiometabolic health is essential so that we can intervene early and better shape the health of young children. Many children are overweight at an early age, which is an important risk factor for the development of cardiovascular diseases. Even without cardiovascular disease in childhood, children with a higher cardiometabolic risk are more likely to develop the disease later in life”, she stresses.

The research is entitled Associations of appetitive behaviors in 7-year-old children with their cardiometabolic health at 10 years of age and is available HERE. The researcher Ana Cristina Santos also participated in the study, which was developed within the scope of the Epidemiology Research Unit (EPIUnit) of ISPUP, in the context of the project Appetite regulation and obesity in childhood: a comprehensive approach towards understanding genetic and behavioral influences.

Image: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

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