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Physical activity and nutrition plan reduces bad cholesterol in children

A recent study highlights the benefit of introducing a family-based physical activity and nutrition intervention. 

The abnormal changes that lead to the development of heart disease begin as early as childhood. In the US, one in five children has at least one abnormal cholesterol measure. Studies suggest that many adults with heart disease may have had an untreated cholesterol problem as a child. Introducing a good regime of physical activity and nutrition in early childhood can potentially prevent the development of heart disease later in life. 

Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland decided to investigate the impact of an individualised, family-based, physical activity and nutrition plan on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol concentration in children. LDL cholesterol is what is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. Published in the European Journal of Nutrition, the two-year follow-up study assessed over 500 Finnish children aged between 6 and 8 years. 

The Physical Activity and Nutrition Study in Children (PANIC) split the children into two groups, an intervention group and a control group. The control group received verbal and written advice on physical activity and nutrition – but no active intervention. The intervention group received six physical activity and nutrition counselling sessions across the two years. Each session centred on a specific topic such as reducing screen time and sedentary behaviour, increasing physical activity, and nutrition advice. Children and their parents received fact sheets, information on local exercise opportunities, some exercise equipment to support exercise indoors, and they were encouraged to participate in an after school physical activity. Each family received their own, individually tailored counselling sessions. 

The lifestyle intervention resulted in a reduction of plasma LDL cholesterol in the intervention group but not in the control group. Increasing the intake of high-fat vegetable oil spreads and reducing butter-based spreads was found to be one of the most important elements of reducing LDL cholesterol. The reduction of dietary fat and an increase in physical activity also explained the decrease in bad cholesterol. 

It is highlighted that future studies need to focus on improving the quality of dietary fat, and increasing the amount of physical activity rather than the intensity. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends monitoring cholesterol for all children to identify children with abnormal cholesterol values. Individualised physical activity and nutrition plans could be introduced to local health care services to help prevent the development of heart disease in the long run. 

Written by Helen Massy, BSc

References: 2020. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 June 2020].

Daniels, S., Arnett, D., Eckel, R., Gidding, S., Hayman, L., Kumanyika, S., Robinson, T., Scott, B., St. Jeor, S. and Williams, C., 2005. Overweight in Children and Adolescents. Circulation, 111(15), pp.1999-2012.

Eloranta, A., Sallinen, T., Viitasalo, A., Lintu, N., Väistö, J., Jalkanen, H., Tompuri, T., Soininen, S., Haapala, E., Kiiskinen, S., Schnurr, T., Kilpeläinen, T., Mikkonen, S., Savonen, K., Atalay, M., Brage, S., Laaksonen, D., Lindi, V., Ågren, J., Schwab, U., Jääskeläinen, J. and Lakka, T., 2020. The effects of a 2-year physical activity and dietary intervention on plasma lipid concentrations in children: the PANIC Study. European Journal of Nutrition,.

EurekAlert!. 2020. Dietary And Physical Activity Intervention Reduces LDL Cholesterol Level In Children. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 June 2020].

Image by Mohamed Nuzrath from Pixabay 



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