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Why Fad Diets Have Become a Public Health Concern

Fad diets often promise amazing results, from speedy weight loss to alleviation of many health problems.


From well-known options such as keto and gluten-free to some of the more extreme raw food and vegan diets, strict eating regimens abound in the United States. Community health workers seek to educate the public about fad diets, teaching them to discern the difference between healthy lifestyle changes and overly restrictive eating plans. Here’s why fad diets have become a public health concern:

  1. At best, fad diets provide a temporary solution.

    Some diets yield initial positive results, such as weight loss. But drastic diets often lack sustainability—participants cannot stay on them for long because they are too restrictive and difficult to maintain. Once dieters return to a less restrictive way of eating, they are likely to gain more weight than they lost in the first place and return to the same or a different diet to seize control of the problem. Often called yo-yo dieting, this practice is especially hard on the cardiovascular system.

  2. Long term, many diets have negative effects.

    While fad diets might yield initial weight loss and other benefits, in the long run, they are often hard on the body. That is because extreme diets tend to eliminate entire food groups from their menus, restricting the ways people can get nutrients. If dieters are not making sure they are getting nutrients in other ways, they could eventually suffer from vitamin deficiencies and other forms of malnutrition. For example, people on low-calorie diets often do not get enough calcium, an essential component of bone and muscle health. Over time, the lack of essential nutrients can lead to serious health problems.1

  3. They can foster eating disorders.

    While diets don’t necessarily cause eating disorders, they often can go hand-in-hand or lead to their development. That’s because restrictive diets encourage participants to think constantly about what they are eating (and not eating)—whether it’s counting calories, eliminating entire categories of food, or tracking numbers on a scale. Following such diets offers a sense of control, which is the driving force behind eating disorders.2

Public health professionals focus on prevention as a path to greater wellness for all people. Educating the public about the dangers of fad diets may prevent people from succumbing to health problems or malnutrition down the road.

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