Focus on healthy eating, not weight, when talking to teens

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As a parent considering talking to a teen about weight control or healthy eating, you may want to stick with the latter. According to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School, conversations focused on losing weight or the importance of being thin were more likely to drive a teen to use unhealthy weight-control behaviors, such as extreme dieting or similar dysfunctional eating behaviors.

Researchers surveyed about 2300 teenagers and at least one of each teen s parents about their conversations regarding food, weight and similar topics along those lines. Overweight adolescents who had conversations about healthful eating with their parents engaged in unhealthy weight-control behaviors less often than overweight adolescents whose parents did not have conversations focused on healthful eating with them. These adolescents were also less likely to diet, and the same was true with normal weight teens. Furthermore, the effect was seen whether it was the mother or the father of the teen having this conversation.

Dr. Jerica M. Berge, lead author of the study, says, Because adolescence is a time when more youths engage in disordered eating behaviors, it is important for parents to understand what types of conversations may be helpful or harmful in regard to disordered eating behaviors and how to have these conversations with their adolescents ¦The best thing they can do is focus on a healthy message.

ACSH s Ariel Savransky adds, This is a really important message for parents, especially because adolescence is prime time to encourage the development of healthy habits. If you teach your child about healthy eating during this time, it is likely that this will stay with them later on. On the other hand, teaching your child about dieting and promoting the idea that it is important to be thin may well result in harmful behaviors that can be hard to modify later.