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Frequent dieters may be at greater risk to gain excessive weight as compared to others, according to a study released yesterday by researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS).
The team, which looked at the dietary habits of boys and girls between the ages of nine and 14, determined that dieting to control weight is not only ineffective but may lead to weight gain.
HMS Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Alison E. Field, who served on the research team, said that the study stands apart from those previously conducted because none addressed a direct correlation between weight gain and dieting habits.
Previously, she said, studies on dieting were unable to determine whether weight-gain incurred was a result of overweight individuals who remain overweight despite their dieting or due to flaws in dieting itself.
Field said the researchers’ techniques helped them differentiate between these two phenomena.
“This study takes into consideration how much these kids consume and what their specific habits are,” Field said.
The study tracked 8,203 girls and 6,769 boys, ages nine to 14, for three years, all of whom were children of nurses at Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Researchers focussed on dietary intake, physical activity, frequency of eating, weight and height.
The study postulates that frequent dieters may be more likely to gain weight because they may be more likely to partake in binge cycles. Also, the study contends, frequent dieters may suffer due to the increased metabolic efficiency which comes with dieting and means that dieters often require fewer calories to maintain weight over time.
Children were labelled “frequent dieters” if they reported dieting to control weight two to six times per week, while others were labelled “infrequent dieters.”
In 1996 when the study began, 25 percent of girls and 13.6 percent of boys in the sample were infrequent dieters. 4.5 percent of girls and 2.2 percent of boys were frequent dieters. The percentage of female dieters increased through the years of the study as the girls got older.
The researchers also evaluated binge eating behaviors. Dieters were more likely to report binge eating than non-dieters, with girls reporting binge eating more often than boys.
Field said she hopes that this study will provide an important message to parents. As eating habits are generally formed in the early years, it is even more crucial for young children to develop healthy habits, she said.
Focus on adolescent eating patterns has increased as the number of overweight adolescents in the Unites States has doubled over the last two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Field said she hopes the study sends a message to the population at large about the ineffectiveness of “casual dieting.”
“In order to change the trend toward obesity in the United States,” she said, “we need to move people from a dieting mentality to a focus on changing lifestyle habits.”
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