Gender-specific intervention may be needed to improve diets of african-american youth

Emotional support may help African-American girls switch to healthier diets but could have a reverse effect on boys, according to a new study.

In an effort to find ways to help young African Americans modify their diets and prevent hypertension later in life, researchers at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University enrolled 184 adolescents in a five-day, intensive, low-sodium diet and analyzed the role social support played in achieving dietary compliance.

Hypertension, especially prevalent among African Americans, can lead to coronary heart disease and stroke but can be controlled through medication, lifestyle and dietary changes, including reduction of salt.

The study found girls who successfully followed the low-sodium diet reported having more emotional support from their family than did the boys. In contrast, boys who followed the diet actually reported lower levels of family support than those who did not stick with it.

We are concerned about the epidemic proportions of high blood pressure in the African American community and believe one way to stem the tide is to help young people develop good dietary habits, said lead author Dawn K. Wilson, PhD. We found that positive emotional support had a greater effect on the girls, suggesting gender-specific interventions may need to be developed.

The researchers publish their findings in the February 2001 issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Participants in the study, all healthy African Americans, included 83 boys and 101 girls, between the ages of 13 and 16. The scientists measured the youths blood pressure and presented them with guidelines for a five-day, sodium restricted diet, which eliminated fast foods and cured and processed meats. The participants were encouraged to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and were given some healthy foods.

Each child kept a food diary. They also filled out a questionnaire indicating wha

Contact: Dawn K. Wilson, PhD
Center for the Advancement of Health

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