The Diet Illusion

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It's been a year since Michelle Obama launched the "Let's Move!" campaign to combat childhood obesity. Currently one out of three children is overweight. This generation may be the first with a shorter lifespan than their parents. Many overweight kids already suffer from type two diabetes, and increased risks for cardiovascular disease and other conditions. Overweight kids suffer teasing and bullying starting before kindergarten. By high school all obese girls have been verbally abused.

The "Let's Move!" campaign promotes healthier school lunches, more physical activity, and better eating habits. All worthy goals.

But I'm afraid that some parents will put their kids on a diet. Research shows dieting kids eat more and actually gain weight. Also, dieting often creates conflict. I've worked with young adults who fought with their parents about dieting. Eating a bag of Oreos was an easy way to rebel. As a child matures and seeks independence, eating can become a battleground.

Mother-daughter dieting is especially dangerous. Dieting together should be a reasonable solution to their common problem, but research suggests that mothers who are too involved in their daughter's eating may increase the risk of bulimia. An emphasis on dieting is characteristic of virtually all eating disorders.

Although dieting is counterproductive, parents shouldn't abandon all efforts to help their kids with their weight. Focus on healthy eating and being more active. Take some comfort knowing that weight loss isn't essential. If a child can just maintain his weight, eventually he'll grow taller and thinner.


The "Let's Move" campaign has focused attention on a significant public health issue, and has had some success improving school lunches and encouraging physical activity. It's imperative that progress in combating childhood obesity is not undermined by well-intentioned but ultimately harmful attempts to put children on a diet.

With a Perspective, I'm Dr. Ed Abramson.