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Melissa Little

Pediatric and Antenatal Dietician. She is a spokesperson for the British Dietetics Association on TV and in print. Member of the parliamentary group for a Fit and Healthy Childhood at Westminster for the UK Government.
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Teenager Care & Health

The dangers of diets for teenagers

The teenage years are a time of intense growth, development and social change. This onslaught can reduce a teenager’s body confidence and self-esteem. Combine this with pressure from the media and peers to look a certain way, and a lack of knowledge and experience about nutrition, and many teenagers choose extremely risky dietary behaviours.  The consequences of dangerous diets and eating habits during adolescence can have an impact on growth and health.
In Short
Teenagers become very concerned about their weight, how they look and how they fit in and can be drawn to dangerous and unhelpful ‘solutions’ such as energy drinks, detox diets and diet pills.

Nearly half of teenagers drink energy drinks which contain dangerous levels of caffeine.

The liver is the organ that detoxifies our body and detox diets are not necessary and can be dangerous for growing teenagers.

Teenagers have died buying and using unregulated diet pills off the internet. They should only be prescribed by doctors in extreme cases. Lifestyle changes are the best way for parents and teenagers to tackle obesity.

Growth spurts and diets

The teenage years are a period of rapid growth and bodily changes. This, compounded by an increased need for sleep, changes in brain function and an onslaught of hormones, mean that these years can often be seen as a time of uncertainty, low body confidence and loss of self-esteem. Combine this with pressure to look a certain way or excel at sports and you can see why teenagers often partake in extremely risky dietary behaviours. This article discusses some of those risky behaviours and the consequences they may have.

Energy drink consumption by teenagers

Research shows that energy drinks are consumed by approximately 30-50% of today’s teenagers, often as a way to increase metabolism or as a meal replacement for weight loss. Energy drinks often contain dangerously high levels of caffeine and have been associated with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavioural disorders when taken in large amounts. Additionally, the high levels of sugar often found in energy drinks can lead to mood swings, increased weight and tooth decay – often the exact opposite of what the teenager was trying to achieve. While energy drinks have no positive contribution to a healthy diet, if they are going to be consumed, this should be done in moderation and definitely not every day.

Fashionable detox diets and teenagers

These diets promise a way to rid the body of ‘harmful toxins’ often by going on a very restrictive diet or a liquid fast. Whilst they can take many different forms ranging from juice only to cayenne pepper, maple syrup and lemon juice concoctions, the basic premise is always the same – very restrictive eating for a short period.

The problem is, teenager’s bodies (like most healthy bodies) already have a way to get rid of supposed ‘toxins’ – it’s called a liver. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that detox diets aid this process in any way. Yes, most people will lose weight however in the vast majority of cases this weight will be regained once normal eating resumes often with an extra few kilos as well. Detox diets mean cutting out nutrients that are crucial to your teenager’s growth and development and could potentially have long-term impacts especially on things like bone health and neurological development. Therefore, if your teenager really wants to ‘detox’, suggest she tries cutting down on processed sugar, alcohol, and caffeine and increasing her water and vegetable intake. This will help promote the rejuvenating effects and weight loss desired in a much healthier manner.

Use of diet pills by teenage dieters

High street diet pills often promise extreme weight loss in the form of a pill. However, many of these products are considered herbal supplements and therefore unregulated in many countries. This means they could contain any amount of harmful products (or just nothing at all) and you wouldn’t know. In extreme cases, these pills have led to deaths, stomach issues, vomiting and hospitalization. However, in most cases they are just a waste of money and simply don’t work. Diet pills should never be taken without thorough consultation with a healthcare professional and only as prescribed. Ask your teenager this, ‘if weight loss was as simple as taking a pill would we really have an obesity epidemic in our society?’

If your teenager is overweight or seems to be obsessed by diets and quick fixes it can really help to work together as a family. Try to include her in growing, preparing and cooking simple healthy meals from scratch. Cooking together and eating together is the most effective way that a healthy and enjoyable attitude to eating, food and diet can be achieved. It can also really help to promote a healthy weight and diet as often it is the hidden, refined sugars in soda, energy drinks, fast food and ready meals that can contribute to obesity and weight gain in the adolescent years.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.