Talking about weight touchy subject for kids

Brian Grieves
Special to NEW Media

Can it be harmful for parents to talk to their child about their weight? An international research team investigated these concerns by analyzing the association between parent-child weight-talk and child well-being. The researchers conducted a scientific review that included over 40 published studies.

They found that encouraging children to lose weight and criticizing weight were associated with poorer physical self-perceptions and greater dieting and dysfunctional eating. Conversely, parental encouragement of healthy lifestyles without explicit reference to weight was associated with better wellbeing.

Here are six specific recommendations from the research. These are for both doctors and parents, and they apply to all teens — not just those with weight problems.

• Never encourage dieting. Dieting packs a double whammy, because it is a risk factor for both obesity and eating disorders. Even just moderate dieting increased a teen’s risk of developing an eating disorder five-fold.

• Do not comment on your child’s weight, or even your weight. What you say matters; teens who talk about weight with their parents are also more likely to diet, binge eat and have unhealthy weight control behaviors, but this risk lessens if the subject of conversation is healthy eating behaviors.

No matter how well-intentioned or seemingly benign you think your comments are, studies show that comments parents make about either their own weight or their child’s weight is linked to a child’s risk of being overweight and developing an eating disorder. Interestingly, even girls who grew up to be of normal weight may be dissatisfied with their weight if they remember a parent commenting on their weight as a young girl.

• Never tease teens about their weight. This seems obvious, but bears repeating, because a significant minority of overweight teens say they’ve experienced weight-related teasing from friends or family members. Cruel taunts about weight increase a child’s risk of both being overweight and developing eating disorders, and the pain can last into adulthood.

• Eat together. While eating meals together as a family has not been shown to reduce obesity rates, it does improve the nutritional content of a child’s diet and it allows parents to model healthy eating behaviors in front of their children, the report said.

One study found that families who eat meals together seven or more times per week eat more fruits and vegetables compared to families who never eat together, and for the kids, this increased intake of fruits and veggies persisted into young adulthood. Another study found that eating family dinners most days during the previous years seemed to protect kids from binge eating, dieting and purging behaviors.

• Focus on a balanced diet and exercise ― not weight loss. Encourage healthy body image by encouraging kids to eat healthfully and exercise for fitness ― not for weight loss. Teens who have these positive influences are more likely to report being happy with their bodies and less likely to say they had weight-related concerns. Kids who are dissatisfied with their bodies, on the other hand, are more likely to develop eating disorders, diet and have lower levels of physical activity.

• Create a healthy home environment. Serve fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and water, while keeping artificial sweeteners, sugar-sweetened drinks and refined carbs away. Parents can also encourage physical activity by keeping TVs out of children’s bedrooms. Health interventions for both obesity and eating disorders are most effective when the whole family is involved in the treatment — not just the child who needs help.

Dr. Brian Grieves is a Doctor of Chiropractic with a Master in Public Health and a member of the Shawano Community Health Action Team (CHAT). Call 715-524-8722 for more information.