Dieting in Children & Teens

Dr. Parang Mehta, MD.

Most adults have been on a diet at some time in their lives.  Many such diets are for health reasons -- weight loss is an important part of the treatment plan of several diseases.  However, many teenagers and even children are going on diets these days.  Most dieting by children and teenagers is to do with looking good, is done with poor or no guidance, and often has a bad effect on health.

Should Teenagers and Children Diet At All?

Some children and teenagers have a genuine weight problem.  Overweight and obesity are unhealthy at any age, and need corrective measures.  However, dieting by itself is rarely effective.  Diets that are drastic ("crash diets") usually reduce the nutrients to the body significantly.  While there may be some loss of weight, this is rarely effective in the long term.  The reduced nutrient supply weakens the body and has a bad effect on health.

Many teenagers and children go on diets for appearance.  Peers, television, magazines, moveis, all reinforce the idea that thin is good.  Even youngsters who have an appropriate weight for their height often feel they are overweight or fat.  The desire to be slim and attractive leads many teenagers and children to start dieting in an unhealthy way.

Children and teenagers are still growing.  A good intake of nutrition is essential for good growth.  Diets that cut out food groups altogether often leave the body deficient in some essential nutrients.  This can reduce the final adult height attained, among other negative effects of dieting.  If teenagers or children diet at all, it should be under the supervision of a trained dietician or pediatrician.

Harms of Dieting

Healthy Eating Habits

Children should eat meals regularly.  The daily diet should include a wide variety of food, so that all four major food groups are included.  Meals should not be skipped for dieting.

Eating should be hunger driven.  Eat when hungry, stop when full.  This applies especially to restaurants and fast food places.  Their servings are often large, and wanting to finish leads to overeating.  Avoid "empty calories" such as fruit drinks and soft drinks.  These contain carbohydrates, and no proteins, fiber, etc.

Eating more cereals, vegetables, and fruits is also a way to "diet".  These choices will help you be healthier, and avoid fattening foods.

Starvation diets, missing meals, replacing food with proprietary diet foods and powders, etc, do not work in the long term.  Improper dieting can cause weight gain instead of loss, and cause feelings of deprivation, constant food craving, and depression.

Good health and good looks are closely related.  A diet that is bad for health cannot leave anyone looking good.  If a child or teenager needs to diet, it must be under competent supervision and guidance.

Last Revision: February 14, 2016

Commercial Diet Plans- Are They Useful?

Commercial diets and foods provide a lot of variety to people going on a diet.  However, the vast array also raises a lot of quesitons about relative benefits.

Diet plans differ in their approach to eating and the support activities.  The common ones are:

In addition some diet plans have support such as weekly group meetings and group exercise classes.

When evaluated for changes in weight and body fat, all these diet plans have been found to have similar effects.  The low carbohydrate eating plans (e.g. the Atkins Diet) has a larger initial weight loss, but the difference does not last over longer periods like 6 months.

More people stick to diets with additional support like group meetings and group exercise classes.  More people leave self monitored and unsupported diet plans.  Rebound weight gain is also higher in the unsupported plans.

Contact Information

Dr.  Parang Mehta,
Mehta Childcare,
Opposite Putli, Sagrampura,
Surat, India.     Tel: +91 9429486624.