New research links oral health and weight issues

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New research links oral health and weight issues


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Wed. 15. November 2017


GOTHENBURG, Sweden: Having children eat healthily can be a tricky task. However, having found an association between the prevalence of cariogenic bacteria and a high body mass index (BMI) in children, research by a doctoral student at the Sahlgrenska Academy of the University of Gothenburg has pointed to a possible new approach.

The thesis on children’s diet, BMI and well-being has suggested that discussions with parents and children about what foods are good or bad for the teeth may help to reduce the risk of obesity. “Weight can be a sensitive subject, but if you talk about eating behaviours alongside dental health, you’re looking at the issue from a different angle,” said the author of the thesis, Louise Arvidsson.

In one of her sub-studies, Arvidsson reviewed the eating behaviour, BMI and dental health of 271 preschool and primary school children in Sweden. She compared the children’s height, weight and food intake over one day with the prevalence of cariogenic bacteria in saliva and discovered a link. The children who had higher amounts of the bacteria also had a significantly higher BMI and less healthy eating habits, such as eating more frequently and consuming more foods rich in sugar.
The researcher emphasised that more studies are needed to investigate the mechanism behind the association between BMI and cariogenic bacteria count. However, she suggested that improving children’s eating habits by reducing intake of sugar-rich foods and beverages and limiting intake frequency (specifically of unhealthy snacks) may provide multiple benefits in preventing both dental caries and the development of childhood obesity.

Furthermore, Arvidsson believes that, with the right collaboration between dentists, child health care specialists and schools, there is a good opportunity to help those most at risk, specifically in Sweden, where children visit the dentist from a young age.

Arvidsson also pointed to the link found in the study between healthy food and a higher self-esteem, better relationships with friends and fewer emotional problems.

“We know that adults with depression feel better if, in addition to other treatment, they also meet with a dietitian. The question is whether a healthy diet can have effect also in young children. There has been a lot of focus on physical activity and mental health in children, but diet is an increasingly recognized aspect,” said Arvidsson.

The thesis, titled Diets of European Children, with Focus on BMI, Well-Being, and Families: The IDEFICS/I.Family Cohort, was based on data from a European study aimed at identification and prevention of dietary- and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and infants.

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