CLEVELAND, Ohio (Ivanhoe Newswire) – One in five American children is considered obese, putting them at risk for some very adult-like diseases. Can what you eat as a kid affect your heart when you grow up?

Worldwide health experts call obesity an epidemic. Obese kids are much more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which puts them at risk for cardiovascular disease. A new study suggests eating patterns that could help kids get on a healthier track.

If you think that what kids put in their bodies now won’t matter years from now, think again.

“It’s not generally known that cardiovascular disease, things like heart attacks and strokes really have their beginnings in very early childhood,” Professor Emeritus, Dr. Michael Macknin, mentions.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic enrolled 96 pairs of parents and their kids in a 52-week study to see if one of three healthy eating plans could lower their cardiovascular risk.

In one case, the kids and one parent were assigned to eat foods from a plant-based diet, which included fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins, like legumes, beans, chickpeas, and lentils. The parent and child could have also chosen the American Heart Association diet, which included fruits and vegetables, dairy, and lean meats, or the Mediterranean diet, which is similar to the Heart Association diet but emphasizes fish, nuts, and olive oil.

The researchers used fasting blood tests to measure the biomarkers of cardiovascular risk and found all three eating plans were effective.

Dr. Macknin says, “Things like blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic, went down. The total cholesterol decreased. The LDL cholesterol, which is the bad cholesterol, also went down.”

Researchers say that study shows that even small changes to eating habits make a difference.

“Pick a diet that you think you can stick with and just do the best you can. You don’t have to be perfect to make wonderful changes,” Dr. Macknin adds.

Dr. Macknin says most of the study participants lost significant weight at the four-week mark, but the rate of weight loss was hard to maintain over the course of the full year. Despite that, the cardiovascular benefits were still evident.