A clinical report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness cautions young athletes who participate in sports with weight classes or an emphasis on physique regarding the practice of weight cutting.
“Sometimes, children and teens in certain sports believe they need to achieve a particular body type to be successful,” writes Rebecca L. Carl, MD, MS, FAAP, from the Institute for Sports Medicine at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, in the report, published in the journal Pediatrics.
“Unless they have a healthy strategy to work toward their goals, however, they can end up defeating themselves and causing health problems.”
Weight cutting is defined in a media release from Healio as the process of fasting, restricting fluid intake and increasing sweat production for weight loss before a weigh-in.
This practice may encourage unhealthy weight loss techniques such as spitting, vomiting, steam baths, saunas and laxative or diuretic use, which can lead to decreased psychomotor function, reaction time, accuracy and mental endurance, as well as temporary learning deficits, fatigue, mood swings and changes in cognitive state due to dehydration.
The clinical report advises pediatricians of young athletes who desire to lose weight for their sport to suggest gradual weight loss with sensible methods for long-term change.
Young athletes may also desire to gain weight for sports, such as football and bodybuilding, which require additional strength for functional or aesthetic purposes. These particular athletes should avoid overeating or using dietary supplements because this may result in the accumulation of fat rather than lean muscle mass.
This is particularly important, per the report, as the authors suggest that adolescent boys who believe they are under- or overweight are almost four times more likely to use anabolic steroids to change body composition.
The authors, in the report, therefore advise that the child or adolescent’s stage of development, genetic factors, type of training, diet and motivation be considered when attempting to influence weight gain and muscle development.
Among the recommendations for pediatricians who counsel young athletes are to obtain an understanding of healthy and unhealthy weight control methods; encourage the placement of nutritional needs for growth and development above aesthetic considerations; and ensure that young athletes are avoiding weight control methods that may have adverse health effects.
Additional recommendations include engaging the services of a dietitian or nutritionist, and monitor young athletes with weight control issues; suggest a range of values for body fat percentage that is realistic; and counsel young athletes on beginning their weight regimens early enough to permit gradual weight change before the season begins.
“Sports participation offers so many benefits for children and teens,” states Carl, in the report. “Parents, coaches, and pediatricians can help them enjoy whichever sports they choose while staying healthy and strong.”