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April 01, 2003

CHICAGO - When it comes to modifying habits and trying to eat more healthfully, a study published in the April Journal of the American Dietetic Association indicates that women who work with dietetics professionals to develop low-fat eating plans have more success than women who monitor their own eating habits.

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center used information from more than 12,000 participants in the nationwide Women's Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial to determine the amount and types of fat women consume and to see if they could maintain their low-fat eating habits after one- and two-year periods.

The researchers found that women who participated in dietary consultation with a dietetics professional were more likely to keep the weight off than women who followed their usual diets.

By the end of the study's first year, women who had gone through the dietary modification program had markedly reduced their total fat intake from 38.5 percent of calories to 24.3 percent. In comparison, women in the study who hadn't undergone the intervention program were consuming 35.7 percent of their calories in fat after one year. After two years, the figures were 25.4 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

"One of the reasons the women in the intervention group were so successful at maintaining their low-fat eating habits was because registered dietitians were used to facilitate the intervention," said ADA spokesperson and registered dietitian Claudia Gonzalez. "The fact that each participant was taught to self-monitor her intake of fat and come to the realization that there are no good or bad foods made it easier for individuals to make long-term lifestyle changes."

Researchers also found that women of different ethnic or racial background selected different foods to reduce their fat intake. White women reduced added fats more than African-Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders did. In addition white and Hispanic women were more likely to reduce fat intake from milk and cheese compared with the other race/ethnigroups. Also, Hispanics reduced fat from mixed dishes more than did other race/ethnic groups.

"A surprising finding was that Hispanics actually made further reductions in fat intake during the second year of the intervention, whereas the other three groups showed slight increases in fat intake after the first year," Gonzalez said. "It is possible that Hispanic women took longer to make dietary changes, either because of differences in education level, family demands or other cultural influences." "Making dietary modifications slowly may allow these changes to be incorporated into an individual's lifestyle and be better retained," Gonzalez said.

Researchers suggest that strategies for women to reduce added fats in their diets should be based on reducing portion sizes, awareness of meal timing and substituting high-fat ingredients in recipes for low-fat options.

In addition, the fact that women from different ethnic and racial backgrounds experienced different amounts of reductions in fat leads the researchers to conclude that useful dietary interventions should pay attention to people's cultural backgrounds, eating patterns and food preferences.
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The Journal of the American Dietetic Association is the official research publication of the American Dietetic Association and is the premier peer-reviewed journal in the field of dietetics and nutrition.

With nearly 70,000 members, the American Dietetic Association is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. Based in Chicago, ADA serves the public by promoting optimal nutrition, health and well-being. Visit ADA at www.eatright.org.

American Dietetic Association

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