Is Weight Watchers Good for 12 Year Olds?

Exercise can help preteens maintain a healthy weight
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Between the childhood obesity epidemic and the pressure that many preteens feel to be thin, it's no surprise that many 12-year-olds are interested in dieting. Weight Watchers is a sensible weight-loss program that encourages members to choose healthy, filling foods and can help adults learn healthy eating habits while losing weight. But weight-loss in children requires a special approach, and the first step is deciding whether a child truly needs to lose weight.

Weight Watchers Restrictions

As of 2003, Weight Watchers requires that children between the ages of 10 and 16 have a parent's signature and a doctor's referral with a goal weight or weight range before they can enroll in the program. Because children have different nutritional needs than adults, the company emphasizes the importance of obtaining specific instructions from a health professional before putting a child in the program, which is specifically tailored to overweight adults. Weight Watchers also forbids people under 18 to join their online program. Instead, children can participate in Weight Watchers Meetings.

A Different Program for Children

While only a doctor can decide whether Weight Watchers is appropriate for a 12-year-old, it's important to understand the differences between a program for adults and one for children. Weight Watchers allows for a safe range of weight loss of up to 2 lbs. per week in adults, but recommends that children lose no more than 1 lb. per month in order to allow for muscle development and height growth. For this reason, any child following the Weight Watchers program should have a plan tailored to her needs, rather than using the same plan a parent or family member may be following.

Weight Considerations

Before joining Weight Watchers, or attempting to lose weight through any method, it's essential to consider whether weight-loss is truly necessary. Many 12-year-olds may have unrealistic and unhealthy ideas about how their bodies should look, and even adults can be too quick to call a child overweight just because he's not as slender as some of his peers. Consulting with a doctor is the best way to determine whether weight-loss is appropriate; if a 12-year-old is only carrying a small amount of weight, your doctor may instead suggest he work to maintain his weight so as he grows his height can catch up.

Healthy Habits

A diet program like Weight Watchers may be recommended for some children, but a diet isn't the only strategy for losing weight. Encouraging your child to choose lower-calorie but nutrient-rich foods teaches her how to satisfy her hunger without taking in excess calories, which can lead to an unhealthy body weight. Twelve-year-olds should also be as active as possible, whether that means participating in a sports team, biking around the neighborhood or just spending time outside with the dog every day. Now is the time to help your child establish healthy habits, and you can do this by making lifestyle changes that benefit the entire family. Let your children help to choose and cook healthy meals, go for a family hike every weekend and limit TV-watching to one hour per day. Teach your child that living a healthy life -- not being a slave to calorie-counting -- is the best way to reach a healthy weight.