Researchers Jennifer Shunk and Leann Birch of Pennsylvania State University found that girls who are deemed "too fat" at age 5 are often experienced dieters by the age of 9. But as dieters, they actually end up putting on extra fat instead of taking it off.
The researchers, who studied 153 girls living in central Pennsylvania, published their findings in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association...girls who dieting ended up fatter for their efforts.
The unhappier the girls were with their weight, the more they tried to diet, to no avail. Shunk and Birch note that their research supports other research that shows "youths' attempts at weight control may promote weight gain."
Interestingly, the study also showed that heavier girls were more likely to munch snacks even if they were not hungry. Why were they eating when not hungry? Apparently because of deprivation-driven eating induced by dieting. Again, this study supports other research showing that 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 the girls to eat snacks, they said. (Again causing deprivation-driven eating).
"Even during the preschool period, before any [dieting behavior], maternal feeding practices that restrict children's access to palatable foods can promote children's overeating," they wrote.
Middle-class families, especially, try to restrict snacks because they do not want overweight children, they added. "However, rather than promoting moderation, these feeding practices can promote disregulated overeating in children."
Instead, parents should themselves demonstrate healthy patterns of eating and exercise, the researchers advised.
And, we would add, parents should also model attuned eating. Children can pick up the habit of eating when hungry and quitting when satisfied very quickly when parents model this behavior and do not restrict food intake.
(If you are concerned about your child's weight, read How to Get You Kid to Eat...But Not Too Much by Ellyn Satter.)