Even Late Adoption of a Healthier Diet Can Help, Study Finds

Researchers found that following a high-quality diet in late adulthood can decrease abdominal and liver fat, reducing the risk of certain inflammatory and heart-related conditions.

By Mary Hernandez
Sep. 25, 2017 10:17 UTC

A recently com­pleted obe­sity study span­ning 20 years on the impact of diet qual­ity in adult­hood sug­gests that main­tain­ing a high-qual­ity diet at an older age can help stave off meta­bolic prob­lems.

The lon­gi­tu­di­nal study was under­taken by researchers from the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, the University of Southern California Department of Preventive Medicine and the University of California Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging.

The results of the 2,000-participant mul­ti­eth­nic cohort study were pub­lished in Obesity Society.
See Also:Small Dietary Changes Can Reduce Risk of Death
At the out­set of the study, par­tic­i­pants aged 45 to 75 were cho­sen. Researchers excluded any poten­tial par­tic­i­pants with BMIs (Body Mass Index) dra­mat­i­cally out­side of the opti­mal range, smok­ers and those suf­fer­ing from health con­di­tions or tak­ing med­ica­tion that could impact their adi­pos­ity lev­els.

The par­tic­i­pants were required to com­plete ques­tion­naires on their daily food habits based on pop­u­lar dietary indices. This involved pro­vid­ing researchers with infor­ma­tion on their daily con­sump­tion of foods and drinks includ­ing fruits, veg­eta­bles unre­fined grains as well as empty calo­ries and alco­hol.

They were also asked to pro­vide details on their lev­els of phys­i­cal activ­ity. Four dietary indices were used includ­ing the Healthy Eating Index, the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, the alter­nate Mediterranean Diet score, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH).

Participants were required to undergo whole-body dual-energy x‑ray absorp­tiom­e­try and abdom­i­nal mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing scans to get an accu­rate esti­ma­tion of their vis­ceral adi­pos­ity lev­els and non-alco­holic fatty liver.

The accu­mu­la­tion of fat in vis­ceral adi­pose tis­sue and the pres­ence of non-alco­holic fatty liver were tar­geted as these qual­i­ties have been proven to cre­ate neg­a­tive meta­bolic con­se­quences in the human body, cre­at­ing inflam­ma­tion and car­dio­vas­cu­lar prob­lems.

It was dis­cov­ered at the study’s con­clu­sion that par­tic­i­pants with bet­ter diet qual­ity mea­sures over the study period had lower adi­pos­ity lev­els, sug­gest­ing that a strong asso­ci­a­tion between diet qual­ity and the devel­op­ment of vis­ceral adi­pose tis­sue and non-alco­holic fatty liver.

In par­tic­u­lar, the Mediterranean diet was found to be inversely asso­ci­ated with excess body weight and a higher than opti­mal waist cir­cum­fer­ence.

Due to the 20-year span of the study, its fre­quent dietary assess­ments, the eth­nic diver­sity of the par­tic­i­pants and the advanced tech­nol­ogy used to assess fat lev­els, researchers are con­fi­dent in the valid­ity of their find­ings.

They cau­tion, how­ever, that fur­ther eth­nic-spe­cific analy­ses are required among minor­ity groups such as Native Hawaiians, Japanese Americans, and Latinos.

While find­ings attest­ing to the health ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet aren’t new, this is the first time a study has iden­ti­fied a strong inverse asso­ci­a­tion with mea­sures of abdom­i­nal and liver fat­ness after total body fat is taken into account and it sug­gests that look­ing at body fat dis­tri­b­u­tion beyond BMI might be more use­ful when advis­ing peo­ple on the impact of their diets.


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