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J. V. Lavigne, Ph.D., S. Gidding, M.D., C. Weil, Ph.D., V. J. Stevens, Ph.D.,
C. Ewart, Ph.D., K. M. Brown, Ph.D., M. Evans, M.S., and T. K. von Almen, Ph.D.

Previous studies have raised concerns about the potentially harmful effects of cholesterol-lowering diets on children's psychological well-being. However, a new study of 663 8- to10-year-old children with elevated cholesterol levels shows no adverse psychological effects after three years on such a diet.

The Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC) looked at the effect and safety of a diet that is lower in total fat, saturated fatty acids and cholesterol than the typical American child's diet. Essential fatty acids are an important part of brain tissue, and researchers have raised concern that diets low in essential fatty acids may adversely affect cognitive development and learning in humans.

The children in the study were randomly assigned to either an intervention or a usual-care group. The intervention group included individual and group counseling sessions to assist families in adopting a diet that contained 28% or less of calories from total fat and dietary cholesterol intake of less than 75mg/1,000 kcal. The parents of the children in the usual care group were told that their child had a high level of blood cholesterol and were given informational pamphlets available to the public on heart-healthy diets.

After three years on the diet, the children in the intervention group had lowered their low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels but had not suffered any adverse effects in terms of academic functioning, psychological symptoms or family functioning. The study's authors say this is important because the diet the intervention group followed is recommended for children with a family history of coronary disease.

Children in the study generally came from families with well-educated parents, were average to above average academically and appeared normal on measures of psychological adjustment and competence. The authors caution that "it remains to be determined whether there might be adverse psychosocial effects with the implementation of the DISC diet in other socioeconomic groups and with children younger than 8- to 10-years old at the initiation of the diet." Despite these and other limitations, the authors say their investigation of the psychological safety of the DISC diet found no support for concerns about its use in children or young adolescents with elevated cholesterol levels.

Article: "A Cholesterol-Lowering Diet Does Not Produce Adverse Psychological Effects in Children: Three-Year Results From the Dietary Intervention Study in Children," John V. Lavigne, Ph.D., Samuel Gidding, M.D., and Connie Weil, Ph.D., Children's Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Medical Center; Victor J. Stevens, Ph.D., Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research; Craig Ewart, Ph.D., Syracuse University; Kathleen M. Brown, Ph.D., Maryland Medical Research Institute; Marguerite Evans, M.S., National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and T. Kristian von Almen, Ph.D., New Orleans Children's Hospital; Health Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 6.

John V. Lavigne, Ph.D., can be reached at (773) 880-4824.


The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.


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