A new study by the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Boston Children’s Hospital looked at how providing weekly plant-based food to families seeking food assistance during the COVID epidemic affected children’s weight and concluded that it lowered their Body Mass Index (BMI), helping to combat their obesity.
Between 1st January 2021, and 1st February 2022, 107 children from 93 families received weekly food packages provided by MGH Revere Food Pantry, averaging about 27 plant-based packages per family for the whole study period. The packages contained fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, and were adjusted to family size to provide enough for three meals per day for each member of the household.
The researchers examined the children’s BMI during a baseline period before receiving food packages and then during a follow-up period using the Mass General Brigham electronic health record. At the start of the study, 57% of children in the study aged 2-18 years had a BMI at or above the 85th percentile. At follow-up, this number was reduced to 49%.
The findings, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, add to a growing body of evidence that providing plant-based foods can help to deal with childhood obesity in children from food-insecure families.
Lauren Fiechtner, MD, MPH, senior author of the study and Director of the Pediatric Nutrition Center at Mass General for Children, said, “It’s important to encourage healthy eating habits during childhood to help prevent co-morbidities associated with obesity later in life, but many families to do not have access to expensive healthy foods, such as produce… Food pantries like MGH Revere that can provide families with healthy foods are a huge help in making sure that kids have a long, healthy future and have the best cardiovascular and metabolic health possible from a young age… Children in families with food insecurity are frequently skipping meals or skipping food for a whole day because their family does not have enough money for food…One way for parents to stretch a tight food budget and make sure their children are at least eating something is to buy the cheapest foods available, which are often not nutritious and contribute to obesity and other health problems.”