Childhood obesity is on the rise and many parents find themselves tempted to put their children on diets. However, you should not put your child on a diet because the effects on self-esteem, health, and even long term weight maintenance can be disastrous. Here’s why.
Health is More Important Than Weight
While obesity can be a sign of poor health, the science is much more complicated than just obesity=sick. Dr. Linda Bacon has analyzed numerous medical studies of the obese and determined that what makes overweight people unhealthy is not the weight itself but lifestyle choices. If someone is eating well and exercising but is still overweight, there are no health detriments of merely being overweight in itself, and much of weight is genetic (Bacon, 2008). Thus your focus should not be on getting your child to lose weight. Instead, you should focus on healthy eating choices and increasing your child’s activity level. An active child who eats a balanced diet is a healthy child, even if they are also a heavy child.
Diets Are Bad For Your Health
The weight cycling that comes with dieting is incredibly bad for your health and internal organs, and in developing children the damage is even greater (Bacon, 2008). Rather than putting your child on restrictive diets in an explicit attempt to help your child lose weight, a better strategy is to encourage your child to eat healthy and balanced meals.
Children Need Calories
Proper brain and organ growth is dependent upon the nutrition a child gets in her formative years. Cutting calories during this time can have a lifelong impact on your child’s health. Restricting calories can even be life threatening to babies, toddlers, and very young children. Children should only be placed on diets under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist, and these diets should only occur if a child is dangerously overweight.
Diets Damage Self Esteem
The effects of feeling fat may actually be worse than being fat itself (Bacon, 2008). Numerous studies have shown that pressure to lose weight, especially if it comes from parents or family members, can raise blood pressure, slow metabolism, impair thyroid function, and cause hormonal imbalances (Bacon, 2008). Even if your child succeeds in losing a few pounds while on a diet, the effects to his self esteem of believing he’s not ok as he is can be lifelong.
Underweight is More Dangerous Than Overweight
Study after study has shown that children who are told they are fat often turn into teenagers and adults with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia (Bacon, 2008). Being dangerously underweight absolutely will kill your child at a certain weight, and putting her on a dieting cycle at a young age can set her up for an eating disorder.
What To Do Instead
The fact that you should not put your child on a diet does not mean that you should ignore nutritional problems or unhealthy lifestyle habits. Rather, you should work on being healthy together as a family. Singling your child out as the one who needs to lose weight is one of the primary reasons diets can be so damaging. A few things that you can do instead to help your child have a healthy lifestyle without emphasizing weight loss include:
-limiting TV time
-going for family walks together
-having fun family outdoors activities
-going biking together
-encouraging rambunctious outdoor play
-serving your child fruits and vegetables he loves
-not allowing your child to drink soda
-limiting the cookies and chips you keep in the house
While a healthy diet and activity level are both important for children, losing weight should never be the goal and can have damaging effects. Focus on a healthy family lifestyle, however, and you’ll find everyone in your family is happier and healthier!
Bacon, L. (2008). Health at every size: the surprising truth about your weight. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.