Plant foods and plant-based diets: protective against childhood obesity?

Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1572S-1587S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736G. Epub 2009 Mar 25.


The objective of this article is to review the epidemiologic literature examining the role of plant foods and plant-based diets in the prevention of childhood obesity. Available data suggest a protective effect of ready-to-eat cereal on risk of obesity, although prospective studies are still needed. Studies on fruit and vegetables; grains other than cereal; high-protein foods, including beans, legumes, and soy; fiber; and plant-based dietary patterns are inconsistent or generally null. The evidence base is limited, and most studies are fraught with methodologic limitations, including cross-sectional design, inadequate adjustment for potential confounders, and lack of consideration of reporting errors, stage of growth, and genetic influences. Well-designed prospective studies are needed. The lack of evidence showing an association between plant-based diets and childhood obesity does not mean that such diets should not be encouraged. Plant foods are highlighted in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and children do not meet the current recommendations for most plant foods. Although the advice to consume a plant-based, low-energy-dense diet is sound, ethical questions arise concerning the relatively high price of these diets in the United States and the way in which such diets are perceived in other parts of the world. Reducing the burden of childhood obesity, eliminating health disparities, and preventing the further spread of the disease around the globe will require not only policy interventions to ensure that plant foods are affordable and accessible to children of all income levels but also awareness of sociocultural norms that affect consumption.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cost of Illness
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Edible Grain
  • Fabaceae
  • Fruit
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Plants, Edible*
  • Vegetables