WEDNESDAY, Aug. 8, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Diet foods and drinks meant to help children control their weight may actually spur overeating and obesity, Canadian researchers say.
The study found that animals learn to associate the taste of food with the amount of caloric energy it provides. The researchers speculate that children who eat low-calorie versions of foods that normally have a high calorie content may develop distorted connections between taste and calorie content, resulting in overeating as the children grow up.
"The use of diet food and drinks from an early age into adulthood may induce overeating and gradual weight gain through the taste conditioning process that we have described," lead author and sociologist Dr. David Pierce, of the University of Alberta, said in a prepared statement.
In a series of experiments published Aug. 8 in the journal Obesity, the researchers found that young rats started to overeat when they received low-calorie food and drink. Adolescent rats did not overeat when given low-calorie items.
This may be because, unlike the younger rats, the adolescent rats didn't rely on taste-related cues to assess the caloric energy content of their food, the researchers said.
"Based on what we've learned, it is better for children to eat healthy, well-balanced diets with sufficient calories for their daily activities rather than low-calorie snacks or meals," Pierce said.
The Nemours Foundation has more about children and healthy eating.