One very common question that we get with emails is from parents looking for weight loss solutions for their kids. They want to know if meal replacement is a safe or effective alternative for their teenager to lose weight. Research has shown that meal replacements have actually been a very effective alternative for adults, but let’s take a look at the long-term effects on teens.
First of all, meal replacements are safe for teens in the most general terms. However, make sure your teen is the one that wants to lose weight. Pushing them into diets isn’t effective and only furthers their sense of social anxiety about their own weight. That’s not healthy. Encouraging them to eat healthier, eating healthier as a family and not just targeting them for their weight has shown to be much more effective. Helping them find a sport or physical activity that they enjoy rather than sending them on runs or to the gym is also going to be more helpful.
Teens are in a very formative time mentally and socially and it’s a fine line to walk when you want them to be healthier and happier while not making them feel socially isolated and self conscious.
As for meal replacements being effective. The largest study we could find that used adolescents showed that, initially, meal replacement is almost twice as effective as conventional, low calorie dieting. Over the first four months, teens lost on average 6.3% of their BMI, (on average, about 13 lbs) whereas the teens on conventional diets were at 3.8% of their BMI (about 8 lbs).
That bodes well for meal replacement, but here’s the thing, just like most dieting, it seems the teens weren’t establishing healthier habits in the meantime. When asked to prolong the diet for over a year, none of the groups were able to maintain the weight loss. All of them gained some weight back and meal replacement users were the highest to the point that after a year the weight loss from those that used conventional diets we roughly the same weight loss as those that used meal replacements.
So, if you’re teen is looking to lose some weight faster, it looks like meal replacement might be a definite option. But if you’re not helping them build an exercise routine and enjoy healthier eating in the meantime, the weight will just come right back.