Fad Diets Can Cause More Harm Than Help to Young Children


Pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist Dyan Hes, M.D., reveals that certain fad diets can cause more harm than good to young children due to missing proper nutrients for growing children. Healthy portion sizes and eating in moderation are appropriate ways for children to stay healthy.

young girl eating breakfastWith all of the focus on weight in today’s society, in addition to the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity, it’s no wonder that many people impose dietary restrictions on themselves and their children. By eliminating certain foods or ingredients from their diets, many aim to control their weight and overall physical appearance in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, most fall prey to fad diets that instead put their health in jeopardy.

Dyan Hes, M.D., medical director at Gramercy Pediatrics who specializes in childhood obesity, says that parents often do not understand the negative effects these diets can have on their children both in the short-term and for years to come. Parents have to remember that their children are still growing. Many extreme diets are lacking in nutrients to keep a child healthy. Many parents are anti-dairy, but they are not giving children healthy milk substitutes. 

“You hear everything from the gluten-free to the Paleo and even the raw diet, parents are inundated with so much information and some misinformation as well,” says Dr. Hes. “It’s difficult to determine which, if any, of these diets are safe for kids.”

Dr. Hes also encourages parents to think of their children if they themselves are considering one of these diets. Some parents are guilty of yo-yo dieting and seeing this can affect their children in an unhealthy way.

Gluten-free diets also raise some concerns. While people who suffer from celiac disease can benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, studies show that gluten-free diets can be lacking in fiber, iron, niacin, thiamin, calcium, B12, and other vitamins. “Parents end up giving their kids rice and corn-based products that have a very high glycemic index and a gluten-free diet can also cause micronutrient deficiencies in children,” Hes adds. “This is especially troubling when children who are not even sick are put on gluten-free diets.”

Dr. Hes advises parents to remember that children require a healthy, balanced diet to nurture their growing bodies and minds and to consider the fact that most fad diets are called fad diets for a reason. She advises families instead to focus on healthy portion size, eating in moderation, and of course keeping active. 

“In my house, we teach healthy habits rather than restricting them from certain foods,” Hes says. “Instead of labeling certain foods as good or bad, we focus on making sure our children feel their best. Forcing kids to feel shame when it comes to certain foods can lead to unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders down the road.”

Dyan Hes, M.D., is the medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City and sits on the board of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. She earned her medical degree at the American Program of the Sackler School of Medicine at the University of Tel Aviv and completed her residency in Social Pediatrics at New York’s Albert Einstein School of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center. She currently serves as clinical assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Prior to founding Gramercy Pediatrics, Dr. Hes maintained a large primary care practice for ten years within Park Slope Pediatrics in Brooklyn. In addition, she developed the Pediatric Weight Management Program at New York Methodist Hospital. In conjunction with the Park Slope YMCA, Dr. Hes created the Be Fit program for overweight children, which has served as a successful model of collaboration between hospitals and community centers.