The Diet Dilemma

If your preteen is pudgy, you may be tempted to put her on a low-fat diet. We explain why that only increases the risk of weight problems later in life.

Q: My 11-year-old looks a lot pudgier than most of her peers do. Should I put her on a reducing diet now to prevent a serious weight problem later on?

A: Not unless you want to increase her risk of having eating problems in the future. In most cases, weight-reduction diets are not only unnecessary for children, they can actually be harmful, according to Ronald E. Kleinman, M.D., Boston-based coauthor of What Should I Feed My Kids? For one thing, restricting caloric intake may reduce the stores of fat and nutrients that your daughter needs for normal growth. For another, putting a child her age on a diet can damage her self-esteem.

"Outlawing certain foods and snacks can lead to a no-win power struggle that sends a clear message to your daughter that she has a weight problem," explains Dr. Kleinman. "This in itself is in many ways more damaging to her than the presence of excess pounds," he observes, because feelings of low self-esteem can linger long after excess weight has disappeared.

Instead of imposing a strict diet on your daughter, you should focus on helping her become more physically active. If you feel you should go further, check with your pediatrician first, advises Dr. Kleinman.

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    All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.