Should You Put Your Kid on a Diet?

Are you starting to think you should put your child on a good old-fashioned diet? Stop. We’ve got a much better idea for changing the whole family’s diet.

What would you do if the doctor said your child was obese? When Dara-Lynn Weiss heard that clinically weighty word, she put her 7-year-old on a yearlong, calorie-restrictive diet, then recounted the struggles—both her daughter’s and her own—in the pages ofVogue. And she caught hell for it. Some considered her methods drastic. According to her own account, she ignored her daughter’s hunger and pleas to be like any other kid at a pizza party. Backlash was venomous, with most critics dismissing the mother as a selfish socialite who projected her own warped body image onto her daughter. But the article also sparked a storm of controversy around a real concern you yourself may have: Should my child be on a diet? With the childhood-obesity rate a bona fide epidemic, it’s a question many of us are asking. Twenty-seven percent of America’s 2- to 5-year-olds are overweight (a body mass index, or BMI, in the 85th to 94th percentile on the growth chart) or obese (95th percentile or higher); for 6- to 11-year-olds, it’s 33 percent. Even 10 percent of our infants are too heavy for their length. But research shows that putting a child on a diet can cause physical and emotional problems that last into adulthood. The less obvious answer is more effective and simple—but, in a way, harder.

The Anti-Diet

When Kerri Day of Deerfield, IL, learned that her 5-year-old’s BMI was in the 94th percentile, she and her husband were shocked. “We thought we ate healthy, but obviously we weren’t doing enough,” she says. “It’s tough having a girl in our thin-is-best culture. Talking to Emma about diets didn’t feel right.”

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