Talking About Weight with your Teen
With obesity becoming a growing trend in our society, parents may struggle over what to say to their teens about weight. Regardless of whether your child is thin or overweight, parents should be careful what they say to their impressionable teenagers.
Recent studies have shown that when parents talked to their teens about losing weight or being thin, their children were more likely to use unhealthy methods of weight loss – such as skipping meals or using laxatives – to control their weight. When parents focused their discussions around being healthy – choosing to eat nutritious foods and exercise in order to stay healthy – and did not specifically discuss weight loss, teens were less likely to use unhealthy weight loss methods or have poor body image.
For instance, a study from the University of Minnesota and published in JAMA Pediatrics revealed the following:
- In overweight adolescents:
- 64% whose mothers talked about weight and/or weight loss had used dangerous weight-control behaviors.
- Only 41% used unhealthy methods when family conversations were just about healthy eating.
- 53% used unhealthy methods when mothers did not talk about weight or food at all.
- In “normal weight” adolescents:
- 39% whose mothers discussed weight or weight loss had engaged in unhealthy behaviors.
- Only 30% of those with mothers who talked about being healthy used unhealthy methods.
Another study determined that mothers who expressed negative feedback about their daughters’ bodies, or mothers who talked about their own weight problems, were much more likely to have daughters with an eating disorder.
In a previous study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, experts reported that creating a healthy home environment, modeling healthy behaviors, and giving encouragement and support to teens can be more effective than discussing weight-related topics with them.
These results suggest that while it IS important for parents to discuss healthy choices (and not ignore the topic completely), focusing on health is a better method than discussing weight. Experts recommend that you discuss health in small doses, during normal activities, rather than have one big serious discussion. For example, parents might discuss why they chose to make their own pizza with healthy toppings rather than order a pizza, or they might explain why they chose to hike a nature trail on a beautiful Saturday instead of going to see the latest movie.
With parents having so much influence on their children, the responsibility may feel overwhelming, but there are simple ways that parents can help their teen manage their weight:
- be a good role model for healthy eating and exercising
- plan meals and make better food selections (buy less fatty foods, soda, junk and fast foods)
- limit snacking (offer healthy choices and only 2 snacks per day)
- control portion sizes
- increase your physical activity and invite your teen to join you; have a more active lifestyle
- eat meals as a family instead of while watching television or at the computer
- do not use food as a reward
Unhealthy eating and lack of activity lead to obesity, which causes many health problems and can easily become a lifelong issue. Eighty percent of children that are obese at 13 are obese in adulthood. The key to fighting obesity is to establish life-long habits of eating and enjoying healthy foods in moderate amounts and exercising regularly. If you do have an obese teen, your best course of action is to model healthy choices and to improve your teen’s self esteem by emphasizing their strengths and positive qualities.