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Kids Watch Weight, But Gain

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Children and teens should not diet on their own because it may lead to binge eating and weight gain, pediatric experts say.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School followed 8,203 girls and 6,769 boys, ages 9 to 14, for three years. They tracked kids' eating and exercise habits using questionnaires and discovered that excess weight gain is more common in those who diet than those who don't. The study is out today.

The researchers found that 25% of the girls and 14% of the boys were occasional dieters, while 5% of girls and 2% of boys were frequent dieters. When they adjusted for other factors that predict weight gain, such as growth, watching TV frequently and not being physically active, they found:

* Girls who were frequent dieters gained an average of about 1.7 pounds a year more than those who never dieted.

* Girls who were occasional dieters gained about 1.3 pounds a year more than those who didn't diet.

* Boys who were either frequent or occasional dieters gained about 2.2 pounds more than non-dieters.

* Girls who were frequent dieters were 12 times more likely to binge on foods than girls who didn't diet.

* Boys who were frequent dieters were seven times more likely to binge than non-dieters.

Kids who diet may be overeating or bingeing on foods they have denied themselves, which leads to the weight gain, says Alison Field, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Her study appears in the October issue of Pediatrics.

Children who have a few pounds to lose or want to control their weight should aim for small changes that can be maintained over time -- limiting supersized portions, switching from 2% milk to skim, drinking less soda.

If they are overweight and need to lose, they should work with a medical or nutrition professional, she says.

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© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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