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News - Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) may help to reduce fat accumulation and increase lean body mass in overweight children

By Dr Pieris Nicola

Childhood obesity is a growing problem. Around 22 million children are overweight in the EU, and more than 5 million of these are obese. Apart from the short-term health risks, childhood obesity puts children at a greater risk of suffering from strokes, heart attacks, colon cancer, gout, and other health problems later in life. A new study suggests that supplementing children with conjugated linoleic acid, also known as CLA, may help. 

What is CLA?

CLA is a naturally occurring fatty acid commonly found in beef, lamb and high-fat dairy products (e.g. milk and cheese); the CLA in dietary supplements is generally derived from edible vegetable oils rich in linoleic acids, such as sunflower or safflower oil. Previous studies suggest that CLA may have potential benefits for weight management in both adult men and women. But its effects on overweight and obese children have until now been largely unknown. 

Can CLA help children lose weight? 

Researchers led by Natalie M. Racine from the Department of Nutritional Sciences University of Wisconsin-Madison, conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (the “gold standard” in medical research) of CLA in 62 overweight or obese children between the ages of 6 and 10. The children were randomly assigned to drink chocolate flavoured milk containing either 3 grams CLA or placebo oil – once a day for seven months. 

After the seven month period, researchers found that the children who took the CLA supplement showed a significant decrease in body fat mass (measured by x-ray). In contrast, the group of children given a placebo experienced an increase in body fat mass. The researchers also looked at the body mass index (BMI) – a measure of  body weight, adjusted for height – and children taking CLA had smaller increases in BMI compared to those on the placebo. 

The overall findings of this study suggest that CLA supplementation in overweight and obese children may help to reduce body fat and increase lean body mass, and could therefore hold promise in improving both their immediate and future health. 

Article References

Racine NM, Watras AC, Carrel AL, Allen DB, McVean JJ, Clark RR, O'Brien AR, O'Shea M, Scott CE, and Schoeller DA. Effect of conjugated linoleic acid on body fat accretion in overweight or obese children. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:1157-1164.

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