Dieting may actually promote weight gain in children

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Study finds about 30 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys diet, but habit may hold little hope for long-term success

The prevalence of overweight and obese children has increased by 100 percent since the 1980s. Americans spend about $33 billion a year on weight loss products and services, however, only about one in five adults follow recommended diet guidelines, possibly explaining why most people fail to maintain long-term weight control. It now appears that casual dieting may be unsuccessful in children, as well. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have found that boys and girls who diet to lose or maintain weight may actually be doing the reverse. A study in the October 2003 issue of the journal Pediatrics showed that frequent dieting among children ages 9 to 14 was not only ineffective, but appeared to result in weight gain in the long term. “Our nationwide study found that as many as one in four American children under the age of 14 were dieting,” said Alison Field, Harvard and BWH researcher. “Given the alarming increase in the percentage of children who are overweight, we felt it was important to understand whether dieting, which is common, particularly among girls, was helpful or actually contributing to the obesity epidemic.”