Helping Children Get Thin
Winning by Losing
Is Dieting Risky? continued...
"The Atkins diet is so restrictive that children can become
deficient in many vitamins and minerals," cautions Rarback. "It is low
in calcium, for instance, and growing children certainly need calcium. It is
also low in grains that are fortified with iron, folic acid, and the B
"Anyone on the Atkins diet needs to take supplements, and
I'm very uncomfortable with children being on any diet where they rely on pills
for their vitamins and minerals."
There are even some diet books aimed specifically at children,
most notably Sugar Busters! for Kids, whose authors include three
physicians. An analysis of the book, recently issued by the ADA, says that
"there is little to criticize about this diet since it encourages a very
healthy lifestyle, including nutritious foods that children typically
avoid." At the same time, the critique from the ADA questions the program's
restrictive nature, which makes foods like sugary sodas, french fries, candy,
white rice, and potatoes taboo; the ADA notes that by denying children their
favorite foods completely, it sets them up for eventual failure.
"It's unrealistic to tell an 8-year-old to never eat
desserts again," says Rarback. "Make them 'occasional foods.' It's not
every mouthful that counts -- it's the total diet."
Losing the Right Way
If your child needs to tighten his belt, keep these guidelines
in mind when choosing a diet plan:
- Set modest goals. "A growing child shouldn't lose more than one
pound a week," says Eden. So go slow, and avoid diets that are overly
- Reduce saturated fat. More foods should come from the fruit,
vegetable, and grain groups, and less from sugar-rich foods and high-fat meats
and dairy products.
- Limit portion sizes. To help reduce the intake of calories, don't
weigh down your child's plate with food. "With the availability of
'super-sizing' at fast-food restaurants, you can get 500 extra calories for a
few more pennies, which isn't the bargain that some kids think it is," says
- Get the family involved. Parents should adopt healthy eating habits
themselves, advises Bruner. "Not only will they become role models, but
their overweight children won't feel singled out for attention about their
- Make exercise a daily activity. Get your youngster involved in
family activities such as biking, swimming, and hiking. "Children can't
lose weight with only diet or only exercise," says Eden. "They must do
- Reduce TV time. When kids are watching TV, they're not exercising
and they might be eating. A study at Stanford University concluded that
children who limit their time in front of the tube tend to be thinner than
youngsters who are glued to the screen.
No matter what your child weighs, make sure he understands that
he's OK. A sensible weight-loss program can help children feel better about
themselves. "It's an important step in helping them take charge and build
up their self-esteem," says Rarback.