Researchers from the University Medical Centre and Leiden University in the Netherlands tracked the dietary fibre intakes of children at the average age of 12.9 months and how that impacted later cardiometabolic health at the age of six.
Looking at five factors of cardiometabolic health – body fat percentage, high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol, insulin, triglycerides and blood pressure – they calculated a cardiometabolic risk factor score for the young participants.
Cardiometabolic risk refers to your chances of having diabetes, heart disease or stroke.
The results showed that just a 1 g per day higher energy-adjusted dietary fibre intake was associated with higher HDL-cholesterol and lower triglycerides, but was not linked to body fat, insulin or blood pressure.
“Results of this prospective cohort study suggest that a higher dietary fibre intake in infancy is associated with better combined cardiometabolic health, especially with a healthier blood lipid profile,” the researchers wrote in the journal Nutrients.
According to the food-frequency questionnaires (FFQ) completed by the mother, fibre from potatoes, fruits and vegetables rather than cereals seemed to drive this association.
They said this was the first time the connection had been investigated in such a large cohort of young children.
"Although effect sizes were modest and without clinical implications on the individual level, small variations in cardiometabolic risk factors in childhood have been shown to predict health in later life, and a high dietary fibre intake already in early childhood may thereby contribute to a reduction in the cardiometabolic disease burden of a population."
Since fibre effects satiety, the researchers predicted high intakes would lead to lower overall energy intake. Yet the results suggested the associations found were independent of energy intake.
"If any, the effect estimates became stronger after adjustment for energy intake, which is in line with results from two previous studies among children that showed larger effect estimates of dietary fibre on cardiometabolic outcomes after adjustment for energy," they wrote.
"This suggests that the effects of satiation may not play a major role among young children. In other words, a high dietary fibre intake does not necessarily displace energy intake and a higher dietary fibre intake might be beneficial for cardiometabolic health via other mechanisms."
Past and future
Previous research has suggested that the benefits of dietary fibre on cardiometabolic health may be trackable right from childhood, with higher intakes linked to lower body fat percentage in children around the age of nine and with lower serum total cholesterol in children at ages of 13 months to nine years.
Yet these studies have focused on school-age children, whereas this latest paper looked at whether diet might be important for cardiometabolic health earlier in childhood.
They called for further research into the long-term link with dietary fibre in infancy and later cardiometabolic health including into the different types of fibre like soluble and insoluble.
2016, 8(9), 531, doi:10.3390/nu8090531
“Associations between Dietary Fiber Intake in Infancy and Cardiometabolic Health at School Age: The Generation R Study”
Authors: R. M. A. van Gijssel, K. V. E. Braun, J. C. Kiefte-de Jong, V. W. V. Jaddoe, O. H. Franco and Trudy Voortman