Low carbohydrate focused diets like the ketogenic diet have long been linked both scientifically and anecdotally to quick fat melting and sustained weight loss. At the same time, rising rates of obesity have affected teenagers and children in the United States. In the past thirty years, rates of childhood obesity have more than doubled, and nearly one-third of teenagers and children are now obese or overweight.1 Teenagers who are overweight are more likely to see health problems later in life like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Studies have also found that teenagers who are overweight or obese are also more likely to experience bullying and self-esteem issues.2
With rates of obesity rising and low carb diets coming into the mainstream, parents around the country have been asking: “Is keto safe for teenagers?”
Does keto work for teenagers?
The ketogenic diet has been found to be effective in adolescents. One study found that of a group of adolescents who went on the ketogenic diet, 60 percent experienced “significant” weight loss. Surprisingly, only about 22 percent of participants chose to discontinue the diet thanks to restrictiveness.3 One surprising result of the diet was a drastic reduction in seizures; dieters reported a 50-90 percent reduction in seizures after being on the ketogenic diet.
Additionally, studies on obese teenagers have mirrored the results of studies of the ketogenic diet of adults. The ketogenic diet was found to be as effective for teens as it was in adults, and in at least one study, no teenage subject chose to drop out of the diet due to side effects.4
The bottom line? Following a ketogenic diet has been found to be both effective and safe in obese teenagers.
What about keto for kids?
The ketogenic diet has a long history of treating children. In fact, the diet was originally invented in the 1920's to epilepsy in children. It experienced a resurgence in popularity in the mid-90's after it was shown to effectively treat refractory epilepsy (i.e., epilepsy that can't be treated with medication) in children. The diet has been so effective in young people, in fact, that it's been repeatedly demonstrated to result in superior results when compared to adults .5
Limiting carbohydrates in children
The ketogenic diet is safe for children of all ages, but some parents may still want to limit the carbohydrates that their children are consuming even if they are not overweight. Consumption of too many simple carbs has been linked to increased rates of misbehavior in children.6
If parents do not wish to start a ketogenic diet for their children, it is still recommended that children who are overweight should have their carbohydrates limited to complex carbs as much as possible. Complex carbohydrates (like those found in whole grain bread and brown rice) take longer to digest, which can help prevent hunger. Additionally, overweight children should have their access to sugar-laden treats like soft drinks, pastries, and treats incorporating white sugar limited, as these foods have a tendency to cause weight gain thanks to their higher calorie count.
The bottom line? The ketogenic diet can be safe and effective for both children and teenagers who are overweight. If your child needs to lose weight for his or her health, the ketogenic diet can help.