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Why Adult Diets Are Not Appropriate For Children

Why should a child’s diet be different from an adult’s diet?

A child’s diet can not be the same as an adult’s diet for many reasons. A child’s body goes through many stages of development and his nutritional needs vary depending on which stage he is in. For example, a child in puberty requires more calories than a school-age child. Therefore, providing the correct nutritional plan at all stages of growth is crucial to ensure proper development. Let’s review several diets and why they are not safe for children.

1) Low Carbohydrate Diets

According to the ADA (American Dietetic Association) low-carbohydrate diets are not effective for adolescents and may, in fact, be harmful. Some side-effects that may occur are electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, low potassium levels (hypokalemia), increased risk of constipation due to inadequate fiber intake, and decreased intake of B vitamins.

Very low-carbohydrate diets have not been studied in children under 12 years of age so the effects are unknown. It seems logical that if low-carbohydrate diets are not safe for teens, they would also not be safe for younger children. Low-carbohydrate diets should be not used in children of any age.

2) Very Low-Calorie Diets

A very low calorie diet may result in nutritional inadequacies. Energy restriction (i.e. calorie restriction) is only appropriate in rare circumstances, when prescribed by a doctor who specializes in child and teen weight loss. Children on very low-calorie diets must be monitored to make sure the correct balance of macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) in the diet is provided. Close monitoring of caloric intake is also important to make sure the calorie level is appropriate for the child’s current stage of development and that adequate growth and development is occurring. If caloric intake is too low, nutritional deficiencies or abnormal development may result. Final adult height can also be affected by a very-low calorie diet. Dr. Dolgoff does not put children on very-low calorie diets.

3) High-Protein Diets

High-protein diets are generally well tolerated by healthy adults but not by children. A child’s body cannot store protein; any excess protein is broken down to amino acids (building blocks of protein) and nitrogen. The amino acids are used for energy or converted to fat and the nitrogen is excreted by the kidneys and liver. High levels of these waste products have been shown to cause kidney injury and can also be harmful to the liver. Children on high-protein diets may suffer from kidney stones and osteoporosis.

High-protein diets limit healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. In addition, high-protein foods are usually high in fat and cholesterol, which may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and other health problems.

4) Low-Fat Diet

According to the ADA, a very low-fat diet (less than 20% of total calorie intake) is not recommended for adolescents or children. A very low-fat diet may put a child at risk for fatty acid deficiencies and slowed brain development. No studies have been done using a very low-fat diet to treat obesity in the pediatric population. However, it is known that childhood is a time of intense brain development. And the brain needs fat to mature! Studies have not been done on very low-fat diets in children because it is clear that children must have sufficient fat in their diets to fuel brain growth and development.

5) Diet Pills

The use of diet pills, appetite suppressants and herbal supplements to aid in weight loss is very dangerous for both adults and children. Diet pills and appetite suppressants may contain large amounts of caffeine which may cause rapid heart rate in children. Many of these supplements have not been approved by the FDA for use in children or even in adults.

The diet methods listed above are not only unhealthy for children but they are also difficult for children to follow. Kids have the added pressure of frequent parties and play dates where foods are served with no options. If a child were following a low carbohydrate diet, she would never be able to enjoy a piece of pizza or a slice of cake. What kind of childhood is that? Dr. Dolgoff believes that all food groups should be consumed in moderation and in the correct portion sizes.

Please not that child weight loss can produce adverse effects and regular monitoring by health professionals is advised before a child starts any weight loss plan.

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