College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

Child diets don't fight obesity

July 19, 2006

Dieting, particularly in adolescence, can be counterproductive.

One expert, Joanne Ikeda, found that out when she surveyed adult women about their dieting habits in a study published in 2004 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. She asked 149 obese women if they had dieted and if so, how many times and when.

"We were able to use statistics and compare with women who had not gotten that large," she said.

The result: The higher a woman's body mass index -- or BMI, a ratio of weight to height -- the more likely she was to have started her first weight-loss diet before age 13, said Ikeda, founding director of the University of California Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health.

Even worse, she added, some large-scale studies coming out of Scandinavia show that repeated weight loss and regain increases the risk for weight gain.

Often called "yo-yo dieting," this pattern is definitely harmful, Ikeda said.

"I tell people if they have lost weight and regained it three times [or more], they should stop focusing on weight loss and start focusing on improving your metabolic fitness," she said.

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