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Restrictive Diet for Kids May Backfire

Children need to learn self-control to avoid becoming overweight, researchers say

FRIDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Parents who try to battle the childhood obesity epidemic by forbidding their kids to eat certain foods are not going to keep them from gaining weight and may actually be making the situation worse, researchers say.

Parents play a critical role in helping children make food choices that will allow them to maintain a healthy weight, according to doctors and experts. But success depends on using the right approach.

A child's inhibitory control, which is similar to self-control, is the key factor in controlling weight. The concept is explored in an article published online in advance of release in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

In the study, Stephanie Anzman and Leann Birch, of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Pennsylvania State University, focused on 197 non-Hispanic white girls.

They collected information from the girls and their parents over 10 years, starting when the children were 5 years old. The researchers recorded the parents' income and education level, and the body-mass index (BMI) of children and parents, and asked the children if their parents restricted certain foods. Mothers also were asked to describe their child's level of self-control.

According to the study authors, girls deemed to have less self-control had higher BMIs and gained more weight compared with their peers who were better at self-regulation. They also noted that girls who lacked self-control were about twice as likely to be overweight by 15.

The researchers found that, among the study participants, the girls at the highest risk for weight gain were those with high levels of perceived parental food restrictions and low self-control.

"Parental attempts to help children with lower self-control by restricting their access to favorite snack foods can make the forbidden foods more attractive, thereby exacerbating the problem," Anzman said in a news release from the journal's publisher.

A better idea for parents is to help their children learn some control by allowing them to choose between healthy options. And it is better to not keep restricted foods in the house, she added.

"That way," Anzman said, "it is not necessary to constantly tell children they cannot have the foods they want."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more on nutrition and fitness for kids.

-- Dennis Thompson

SOURCE: Journal of Pediatrics, news release, Aug. 13, 2009

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