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Dieting May Promote Weight Gain in Kids

Children and Teens who Diet May Gain Weight Rather than Lose It

Dieting Alone Isn't Enough

Pediatrician Michael Wasserman, MD, says the findings aren't surprising, because losing weight takes more than just dieting in both children and adults.

"The answer is not that diet is bad, but that changing your lifestyle is a better way," says Wasserman, who works at a child weight-loss program at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans.

"It has to be a multifactorial change in how you live. You just can't change one piece of it, you need to change whole day-to-day lifestyle that the youngster goes through," Wasserman tells WebMD.

But Wasserman also points out that 90% of the study participants were white and they all were children of nurses who participated in the Nurses Health Study II, so the results might not apply to the entire population.

Even so, the study highlights the need for parents to strike a healthy balance between encouraging healthy eating habits and not making food an emotional issue, which could lead to potentially dangerous binge eating or eating disorders.

Smart Ways to Help Kids Lose Weight

How to help children and teens lose weight is a problem more and more parents are facing today as the prevalence of overweight children has risen by 100% in the last 20 years. Currently about 15% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.

Research also shows that children who are overweight or obese have a 90% chance of being overweight as an adult, and that's why experts say it's important to help children develop healthy habits as early as possible. Having obese parents also increases the risks that the child will be obese.

Registered dietitian Rachel Brandeis offers the following tips to help children (and their parents) attain and maintain a healthy weight:

  • Get moving. Increasing physical activity to burn more calories is the best way to encourage weight loss in children. Turn off the TV or computer and get them involved in any type of sporting activity.
  • Offer a variety of healthy foods. Limit sugary snacks, sweets, and other sources of empty calories, such as potato chips.
  • Don't label foods. Labeling a food as "bad" is likely to make that food more appealing to children and might lead to overeating or binging when it becomes available at home or elsewhere.
  • Avoid "family style" meals. Plating foods in the kitchen gives parents more control over portion size and helps children learn what a kid-sized portion should look like.

Brandeis says it's also important for parents to set a healthy example for their kids with their own eating habits.

"Children model parent's behaviors. So if parents are constantly talking about being on a diet, and saying, 'I can't eat this, I can't eat that,' children pick up on those patterns as well," Brandeis tells WebMD.

"Food should just be healthy," says Brandeis, who is a spokeswoman for the National Dietetic Association. "There's room for treats, there's room for empty calories, but if your child is struggling with a weight issue ... don't make food such a big issue."

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