Young children who consume more unsaturated fat have a lower body weight, according to recent research from Göteborg University in Sweden.

Researchers measured the dietary habits and body mass index (BMI) of 4-year-olds recruited from pediatric health centers in Göteborg, Sweden. Of the 182 children studied, 20 percent were classified as overweight and 2 percent as obese.

A surprising quarter of the children's total energy intake came from junk food (candy, ice cream, cookies, and sweet beverages). In addition, most children had a higher intake of saturated fat and sucrose—and a lower intake of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and iron—than recommended.

However, a higher BMI was associated with lower fat consumption. Specifically, researchers found that children who weighed significantly more ate far too few unsaturated fats, especially omega-3s.

Previous laboratory studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) suppresses developing fat cells and could play a role in reducing body fat. "Omega- 3s, in the form of DHA and EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid], can only be obtained in therapeutic levels by eating fish or by consuming fish oil supplements," says Keri Marshall, ND, MS, a Dover, New Hampshire–based naturopathic physician specializing in children's health. (Because some fish may be contaminated with heavy metals or other toxins, she recommends that all children take a high quality, purified, fresh tasting fish oil supplement.)

According to the American Heart Association, more than 17 percent of U.S. kids ages 6 to 11 are overweight. "Not only are children's diets deficient in healthy fats such as the omega-3s," says Marshall, but they also "consume excessive amounts of carbohydrates in the form of crackers, pancakes, pasta, sandwiches, bagels, cereal, and juice." When these excess carbohydrates are stored in the body as fat (specifically in the harmful triglyceride form), she warns, the individual is at risk for heart disease and diabetes.