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GEMS—A Program to Guide Young Girls' Eating

By Alfredo Flores
March 23, 2006

Studies at the Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) in Houston, Texas, show a link between preteen girls' vegetable consumption and their weight.

The CNRC is operated by the Baylor College of Medicine in cooperation with Texas Children's Hospital. The center is funded by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's principal scientific research agency.

The CNRC was one of four U.S. field centers involved in developing and pilot-testing an innovative obesity-prevention program known as GEMS, for "Girls' Health-Enrichment Multisite Studies." Sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, GEMS' goal was to find ways to prevent obesity among 8- to 10-year-old African-American girls. The other field centers were the University of Memphis in Tennessee, the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis and Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

To obtain a measure of the normal dietary intakes of 114 African-American girls aged 8 to 10, the researchers asked each girl, at the beginning of the study, to recall foods eaten within a 24-hour period on two specified days.

Karen W. Cullen, a behavioral scientist at the CNRC and associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, reported some of the baseline results, comparing the girls' heights and weights—expressed as Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements—to consumption. She and colleagues found a significant inverse link between BMI and the amount of vegetables consumed daily by GEMS participants. This means that the girls who reported eating more vegetables had lower BMIs. These results suggest that lower-calorie vegetables may take the place of higher-calorie foods in the girls' diets and have a positive influence on energy balance.

The girls who snacked more often were found to also drink more sweetened beverages, such as fruit drinks, sweetened tea and soda.

Read more about the research in the March 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine—an issue focusing on ARS obesity research.

The findings in the CNRC study were originally published in the journal Obesity Research.