Children and Dieting

You have probably heard the term “childhood obesity” fairly regularly.  It’s a common concern, that I feel is wrongly emphasized.  There is a very common belief that we can choose our weights, as if there are no other factors than what we eat and how we exercise.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  Statistics show that going on a diet has a 95% fail rate with weight regained (plus some) within 5 years.  The issue here is not whether weight is a problem or not, but what is actually helpful or effective in helping individuals live healtheir lives.  It is my beleif that emphasizing weight as an indicator of health is getting us nowhere fast.  In fact, I have seen remarkable things happen when we take weight out of the health equation and instead focus on healthy behaviors.

While it may be tempting, don’t put your children on diets. I cannot emphasize enough how counterproductive dieting is at ANY age. Instead, model healthy physical and emotional behaviors. The risk of physical and emotional ramifications of dieting largely outweighs any benefit. In fact, I have never seen any benefit from dieting.

A new study has found negative associations between childhood dieting and health in later years. An excerpt from the article linked below:

“Keel and team found that for each year younger at first diet, a woman’s risk of these associations became stronger. For example, a woman who first dieted at age 11 would be 14 percent more likely to have an eating disorder, 79 percent more likely to abuse alcohol and 67 percent more likely to be overweight or obese by her thirties than someone who first dieted at 12 years.

Why this association exists remains an open question. Keel, a psychology professor at Florida State University, theorized that food restriction could actually affect neural pathways. “One possibility is that restricting food intake earlier in life may influence brain development in ways that alter sensitivity to rewards, like food and alcohol, that could increase risk for overconsumption and related problems in life,” she said.

So what’s a parent to do? Skip fad diets and don’t emphasize restriction, Balantekin recommended. More than anything else, parents should model healthy behaviors, like increased exercise, more fruit and vegetable consumption, and less sugar intake.”

From: Putting Your Child on a Diet Could Have Unintended Consequences

I would agree!  In addition, special attention should be given to avoid shaming food choices or exercise behaviors.  A more effective approach for children’s health would be the Division of Responsiblity discussed previously.

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD