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Adolescents should stay away from diet pills


Q: Is it safe for my 14-year-old daughter to use diet pills to lose a few pounds?

A: We are not in favor of adolescents using over-the-counter diet pills, even though some 10 percent of eighth grade girls have done so within the last year, according to the National Adolescent School Health Survey. The evidence on the success of such pills is scanty. If there are any positive results, they are limited to the first few weeks of use. Used in excess, these pills can have serious side effects.

More important, however, is the whole issue of perceptions of body size among adolescents. Many teen-agers, especially teen-age girls, perceive themselves as too fat, even when they are of normal or less-than-normal weight. Teen-agers often mistake the body changes that naturally occur during puberty as evidence that they are overweight.

Excessive restriction of calories is not recommended since adolescence is a period of rapid body growth. Adequate nutrition is essential if proper growth is to be maintained. If your daughter is worried about her weight, we suggest that she talk to a doctor. If weight control is necessary, we favor a program that combines sound nutrition with exercise.

Q: My mother is always yelling at me about hunching over my books when I study. Will I really ruin my back for life?

A: If you are not having any pain in your shoulders or back at the end of the day, it is unlikely that you are causing any real damage. But you can do your back a favor and probably even study more successfully for longer periods of time by varying your position from time to time. The idea is to let many muscle groups share the strain, especially that of holding up your (relatively heavy) head!

Some tips:

*Read smaller books in a large comfortable chair in which you can lean back.

*When you have to work at a desk, be certain it is at a comfortable height.

*Get up and do stretching exercises when you begin to feel tight.

*Record facts on small cards and lie on your back to review them.

Dr. Wilson is director of pediatric primary care of the Johns

Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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