Girls who are starting to get too fat at age 5 are often experienced dieters by the age of 9, but they put on extra fat instead of taking it off, say U.S. researchers.
This study suggests that children and their parents are well aware when they weigh too much, but they do not know the best ways to slim down.
Scientists at Pennsylvania State University studied 153 girls living in central Pennsylvania. Those who weighed too much had tried to diet, but ended up putting on more weight. The unhappier the girls were with their weight, the more they tried to diet - unsuccessfully. This supports other research suggesting that youths' attempts at weight control may actually promote weight gain.
At age five, 32 of the girls were considered at risk of being overweight. They were checked again at ages 7 and 9. At 7, girls at risk for overweight were eating significantly more than those not at risk.
For the study they were asked about foods they ate and answered questions such as, "Do you try to only eat a little bit on purpose so that you won't get fat?"
The girls were left in a room with toys and snacks and told to play or eat while the researchers left the room. The researchers watched to see what the children ate. The heavier girls tended to eat snacks even if they were not hungry.
The researchers said their study supports other research that shows when people try to diet by simply eating too little, they eventually set themselves up for binges. Mothers may also help this along by forbidding girls to eat snacks, they said.
Middle-class families, especially, try to restrict snacks because they do not want overweight children, the researchers added. But, rather than promoting moderation, these feeding practices can promote overeating in children. Instead, parents should themselves demonstrate healthy patterns of eating and exercise, the researchers advised.
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