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Supplement Perspectives

Let's Be Real About Kids' Weight-Loss Supplements

Over the past 30 years, I have competed in almost 300 endurance events, including 150 triathlons and 97 marathons. I often think about how it all started – my insatiable appetite to be fit and healthy. I think about my youth, which has what shaped me over the years. When I was in grade school, it seemed like I was always 20-30 pounds overweight. I’m not sure what my thought process was. I just knew I didn’t like it. During those years, I would diet. My mom was very helpful. She would put the right foods (and portions) in front of me and I’d ultimately lose weight. But I would ALWAYS put the weight back on. And there were repercussions. Kids can be very cruel.

In 2012, the young, chubby me wouldn't be out of place. According to the Centers for Disease Control website, results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate that an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese. Obese children and adolescents are at risk for health problems during their youth AND as adults. Obese children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.

The really scary thing is that obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. For example, one study found that approximately 80 percent of children who were overweight at ages 10–15 were obese adults at age 25. Another study found that 25 percent of obese adults were overweight as children. The latter study also found that if children were overweight before eight years of age, obesity in adulthood was likely to be more severe.

Store shelves are loaded with weight-loss supplement products for adults. Marketers of weight management supplements are now asking themselves whether kids should be a target market for these types of supplements as well. Eight years ago, many of these products contained ephedra.. These have been replaced with other products for both children and adults claiming to be safer and with promises of providing extraordinary results. But in many cases, parents are being misled. Products may be ephedra-free, but they are not necessarily safer.

Why would parents even consider giving their kids a weight-loss supplement? I understand that many parents want to be proactive and address their child’s weight issues before their child becomes severely overweight. However, being a parent myself and knowledgeable about supplements, I have always questioned the true efficacy of weight loss supplements for kids (and adults) and the motives of marketers. Where is the science behind these products? Or do marketers see kids weight-loss supplements as having huge moneymaking potential? There seems to be a moral conflict and I don't see the resolution being in the best interests of our children. America's estimated 75 million adult dieters spent $60.9 billion dollars on weight-loss supplements in 2010.

The bottom line is that kids and teens must lead a healthy lifestyle that incorporates healthy eating and regular exercise that consistently supports weight management and a healthy metabolism. This will improve energy levels, systemic harmony and digestive health. I am living proof, and I know I’m not the only one. That's why I remain skeptical about weight-loss supplements for kids and distrustful of those who market them.  

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