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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