Low calorie diets ‘safe’ for obese teens if monitored, experts suggest

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Short-term ‘crash diets’ can be safe for teenagers with obesity if they are closely monitored by a dietician, experts have concluded.

According to a new study carried out at the University of Sydney, the researchers concluded that many fears regarding very low-energy diets (VLED) – which involve consuming less than 800 calories a day – are unjustified.

VLEDs are often prescribed to those who are obese and want to lose weight, but are not responding to more conventional methods.

Safely implemented

The study involved 71 men and 70 women who were obese but also had at least one associated condition, such as high blood pressure. They were placed on four-week diets involving formulated meal replacements and low-carb vegetables.

In addition, a dietician provided support at least weekly.

More than 130 participants completed the study, losing 5.5kg in weight on average while nearly all (95%) had at least one side-effect – with seven in 10 experiencing three. Hunger, fatigue and headaches were the most common side effect cited.

The researchers concluded that a health professional-monitored VLED can be implemented safely in the short-term and, despite the side effects, is acceptable for many adolescents with moderate to severe obesity.

Treatment options

Dr Megan Gow is from the Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School at the University of Sydney. She said: ‘More research is required to determine who would be most suited to a VLED.

‘However, given the associated rapid weight loss, their use should be emphasised in clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of severe obesity and obesity-related complications in adolescents, especially before pharmacological or surgical intervention.

‘Adolescents who are seeking treatment for their obesity should see their family doctor to discuss treatment options.’

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