Dieting and Children

Meet Samantha. She is a first grader and each day that she is good in class, she receives a gold star. After school, for each gold star, she gets to go to McDonald’s and get a Happy Meal. Knowing she is going to be rewarded with McDonald’s, Samantha tries to be really good and get the gold star every day. Samantha is only six years old, but her pediatrician is concerned about her health and her weight.

Meet Casey. She is a thirteen-year-old in a healthy weight range. Each afternoon when she gets home from school, she can’t wait to turn on the TV and open up a juicy teen magazine. In each of these, Casey sees the girls she aspires to be. She wants to be a singer, dancer, a model, and maybe one day an actress too! When Casey looks at the skinny models on her TV or in her magazine, she thinks there is no way she could ever be like them. She is not beautiful or skinny enough in her mind. She feels overweight.

Now imagine that both of these girls start a commercial weight loss program. Seems ridiculous, right? Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Nowadays, many children and adolescents are joining commercial weight loss programs or using other dieting methods they have read about online. Is this safe for children?

As recently published in the US News and World Report, dieting in children is very risky and can lead to deficiencies in vitamins and nutrients, delayed puberty, amenorrhea, stunted growth, osteoporosis, weakened immune systems, lower self-esteem, and problems with concentration and academic performance. Many of these physical, emotional, and cognitive problems may be difficult to reverse.

Children’s bodies are constantly growing and changing up into their early adult years. Dieting or severely limiting foods, restricts the body’s ability to continue to grow and change. Instead of letting children start adult dieting programs that are not geared to their developmental needs, experts suggest adopting healthier eating and physical activity as a family. This whole-family approach is the best way to teach children and adolescents lifelong habits to stay healthy. By working toward healthy lifestyle change together, families can support one another in their healthful eating and activity goals and make sure to keep the focus on health and not on weight.

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By: Michelle Bates