Jan 24, 2012

Dieting Isn't the Way to Lose Weight for Kids Children's Health Dallas expert says eating healthy should be a lifestyle change, not a temporary thing for our kids.

As we've addressed many times and as you've literally seen hundreds of times on the news, childhood obesity is a problem in America. Many well-informed, concerned people would even take it a step further and say that it's an epidemic. That group includes many experts on our team at Children's.

So, it seems like we should be doing whatever possible to get kids to lose weight, right? (For examples of "whatever possible," see this story on tracking devices in a New York school district and a recent ad campaign by the Georgia Children's Health Alliance.)

Maybe not, revealed a recent University of Minnesota study . The results of that study indicate that teens shouldn't even be dieting.

Why? Children's clinical dietitian Deborah Stern said dieting "implies the starting and stopping of something. And eating healthy shouldn't be a temporary thing. It should be a lifestyle change."

The teens who participated in the Minnesota study proved Stern's point. The ones who regularly dieted, skipped meals and took weight-loss pills actually gained more weight in young adulthood than the ones who didn't take any of those measures.

The problem with diets, medicines, fasts and cleanses is that they're usually unsustainable over the long haul. "They set you up to fail," Stern said. Teens (and some adults like the one writing this blog) get pulled into them because they often do provide significant short-term results, and they see the dramatic transformations people undergo from drastic diet and fitness adjustments on shows like NBC's "The Biggest Loser."

"I have to admit that it's one of my favorite shows; I watch every episode," Stern said. "But kids have to understand that all the contestants do 24 hours a day, every day is workout and diet. They don't see family. They don't go to work. It's unrealistic."

Stern said that it's vital that weight loss goals be realistic for kids. Instead of focusing on losing 20 pounds in one month by eating only lettuce, they need to look at getting healthy as a process, adjusting their lifestyle a couple of steps at a time. That may result in less drastic weight loss in the short term, but it will equip them to be healthier in the long term.

"If kids don't look at being healthy as a lifestyle, they're never going to develop healthy habits," Stern said. "Instead, they'll develop habits of trying new diets and then dropping them entirely, which isn't healthy at all." So, how do you help your child make being healthy a lifestyle instead of just a one-month goal? We'll talk about that in tomorrow's blog.