Getting overweight adults to adopt new heart-healthy eating habits is an uphill battle. But giving them a handout about nutrition may be better than nothing, new research suggests.

There’s “an urgent need for innovative approaches to support the implementation of current dietary advice,” said Dr. David Jenkins, lead author of the new study from the University of Toronto.

To prevent chronic disease, U.S. nutrition guidelines recommend diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, plus foods that lower cholesterol such as oats, barley, nuts and soy.

Jenkins, who is chair of nutrition and metabolism at the university, and his team tried three ways of encouraging these healthy habits. The researchers randomly assigned more than 900 overweight adults to one of four groups.

One group received advice about diet through phone calls. Another got a weekly food basket but no advice about diet. The third group got both advice and food baskets. A fourth group, used as “controls,” did not receive advice or food baskets. Everybody in each group got a “food guide” handout about diet.

Six months later, participants overall had only slightly increased their consumption of healthier foods like fruits and vegetables, regardless of group. The researchers said the only consistent increases were seen in the group that received both food and advice.

 

And by 18 months, that slight increase in healthy eating was dwindling, the investigators found. Still, weight and blood pressure dipped a bit in all the groups, including the control group, according to the study.

The results were published Feb. 27 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

“These data demonstrate the difficulty in effectively promoting fruit, vegetable and whole grain cereals to the general population using recommendations that, when followed, decrease risk factors for chronic disease,” Jenkins said in a journal news release.

But the author of an accompanying journal editorial suggested looking at the results as a “glass half-full.”

“Each country and scientific society must prioritize the strategies best adapted to local customs and regulations,” wrote Dr. Ramon Estruch, an internist at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, in Spain.

“However, it appears that simply giving a copy of healthy dietary guidelines causes small changes in the right direction. Perhaps we should start with this extremely simple, no-cost procedure at schools, workplaces, clinics or sports centers, while the other strategies are slowly developed and implemented,” Estruch suggested.

Jenkins disclosed grant funding from several food-related companies.

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