Dieting May Promote Weight Gain in Kids
Children and Teens who Diet May Gain Weight Rather than Lose It
Oct. 6, 2003 -- Children and teens who constantly go on and off
diets to lose weight may actually end up gaining extra pounds in the long
A new study shows that girls who were frequent dieters gained
about two extra pounds per year, and boys who were dieters gained more than two
extra pounds per year compared with nondieters.
Researchers say the findings show that putting overweight
children on restrictive diets not only doesn't help them lose weight, but it
also promotes unhealthy eating habits that can last a lifetime.
For example, the study showed that girls who were frequent
dieters were 12 times more likely than nondieters to engage in binge eating,
and boys who dieted were seven times more likely to become binge eaters.
Children and Dieting Don't Mix
For the study, researchers followed a group of 8,200 girls and
6,770 boys for three years starting in 1996. They were 9 to 14 years of age.
Participants filled out annual questionnaires about dieting, weight change,
exercise, and eating habits.
Researchers found that nearly 30% of the girls and 16% of the
boys were dieters at the start of the study. During the three-year follow-up,
the study showed that dieters consistently gained more weight than nondieters,
with dieters gaining an average of nearly two more pounds per year more than
The results appear in the October issue of
Dieters were also much more likely to engage in binge eating,
defined as eating large amounts of food in a short period of time and feeling
out of control in the situation -- such as eating an entire box of cookies and
feeling that you couldn't stop even if you wanted to.
"What we think is happening is that the more frequently
they dieted, the more frequently they would binge eat or overeat in between
these dieting episodes, and that would lead to their weight gain," says
researcher Alison Field, ScD, assistant professor at Harvard Medical
Field says this study is among the first to look at the
long-term effect of dieting in children and teens, and the findings show that
it's wrought with many of the same problems that affect adults who try to lose
weight with the latest fad diet.
"Diets are very hard to stick with because most people pick
a diet that's going to make them really lose weight and notice changes very
rapidly," Field tells WebMD. "Unfortunately, what we really should be
recommending is something where you're not going to see the results as quickly,
but it's easier to adhere to."
That means making smaller, more modest changes, like changing
from a 20-ounce bottle of Coke to a 12-ounce can, or changing from eating
super-sized portions to normal-sized portions.