Parents who urge their teenage children to lose weight may be inadvertently increasing their children’s risk of developing eating disorders or engaging in unhealthy eating habits, finds a study published online on June 24, 2013, in JAMA Pediatrics
The study compared the effects on teenagers’ eating habits of parent–child conversations about healthy eating with those of conversations about losing weight. The researchers analyzed the responses of 2793 overweight and normal weight adolescents from the Eating and Activity in Teens 2010 survey and of 3709 parents from Project Families and Eating and Activity in Teens.
Overweight and normal weight adolescents whose parents focused on the need to lose weight were more likely to diet, attempt to control their weight in unhealthy ways, and binge eat. Overweight adolescents whose parents centered conversations on healthy eating habits, on the other hand, were less likely to diet and engage in unhealthy eating behaviors.
Approximately 28% of mothers and 23% of fathers of normal-weight children reported conversations concentrated on healthy eating, compared with just 15% of mothers and 14% of fathers of overweight children. However, 60% of mothers and 59% of fathers with overweight children reported conversations focused on weight loss.
The researchers suggest that parents should emphasize the importance of healthy eating habits rather than weight loss in order to encourage their adolescents to make safe and nutritious food choices.