PRESSURES to be thin are now being felt by girls as young as 5, who are lapsing into dangerous dietary practices such as binge-eating and yo-yo dieting. A study of 153 girls by researchers at Pennsylvania State University's department of human development and family studies reveals that many girls who began thinking they were too fat at 5 had become experienced dieters by the age of 9. Some even start taking [url=https://www.phen375myreview.com]Phen375 diet pills[/url].
But Professor Leann Birch, who led the research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, says that youngsters who tried hardest to shed surplus pounds often ended up gaining more fat as their misguided attempts to diet backfired. What most intrigued Birch and her colleagues was how girls so young had developed a poor body image: they suspect that parental influence, subconscious or otherwise, is the main trigger in most cases. In families where "access to palatable foods was restricted" or where mothers were seen to diet, children were more likely to diet themselves.
"Rigorous control of food intake can cause 5-year-olds to lose the ability to regulate their own eating patterns," says Birch. As a result, these children grow up misunderstanding the natural cues for hunger.
Paradoxically, when well-meaning mothers forbade foods such as crisps and sweets, their daughters were more likely to overeat behind their backs. Similarly, mothers who followed restrictive diets had daughters who, "in the absence of hunger, ate more forbidden snack foods whenever they were available", Birch says. Attempts to control the girls' food habits "were more likely to promote disregulated eating" in the long term.
During the four-year study, the girls had their weight and eating habits checked when they were 5, 7 and 9; when the research started, 32 of the subjects were considered at risk of being overweight according to government standards. In order to determine how seriously they were dieting, each child was asked questions such as "Do you try to eat only a little bit on purpose so that you won't get fat?"
Researchers also looked at how the girls reacted when left in a room with toys and snacks and told to "eat or play" when they were left alone.
By the age of 7, the heavier girls had tried dieting and were already bingeing on food significantly more often than those who were not at risk of weight gain.
Birch says that the findings support the theory previously established in adults that people who try to get thinner by cutting their calorie intake too severely eventually become bingers. At 9, the unhappier girls were with their weight, the more they tried to diet -and the more likely they were to put fat on instead of take it off.
Amanda Wynne, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association (BDA), says that studies such as this one prove that parents can influence disordered eating habits much earlier than they realise. "At 3, children are still programmed to eat in response to appetite," Wynne says, "but by 5 they are influenced by social and cultural issues surrounding food."
A recent survey of 4,000 men and women conducted by the BDA also showed that repeated attempts to diet often end in failure. A third of the adult slimmers questioned admitted that they ended up a stone (6kg) heavier than their original weight only weeks after dieting.
Now that obesity affects one 6-year-old in ten in the UK, Wynne believes that parents should avoid introducing their children to quick-fix diet solutions.
"They don't work and usually result in yo-yo diets and binge-eating," she says.
"In order to prevent girls developing adverse emotional reactions to food, parents need to introduce appropriate amounts and types of food to their everyday diet.
Keeping it varied and allowing a bit of everything in moderation is the safest approach."
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