Researchers from the University of Minnesota have found a link between the way food is discussed in the home and the likelihood that a teenager will develop disordered eating. The study was just published on Monday by JAMA Pediatrics.
Here’s the study’s abstract:
Importance The prevalence of weight-related problems in adolescents is high. Parents of adolescents may wonder whether talking about eating habits and weight is useful or detrimental.
Objective To examine the associations between parent conversations about healthful eating and weight and adolescent disordered eating behaviors.
Design Cross-sectional analysis using data from 2 linked multilevel population-based studies.
Setting Anthropometric assessments and surveys completed at school by adolescents and surveys completed at home by parents in 2009-2010.
Participants Socioeconomically and racially/ethnically diverse sample (81% ethnic minority; 60% low income) of adolescents from Eating and Activity in Teens 2010 (EAT 2010) (n = 2793; mean age, 14.4 years) and parents from Project Families and Eating and Activity in Teens (Project F-EAT) (n = 3709; mean age, 42.3 years).
Exposure Parent conversations about healthful eating and weight/size.
Main Outcomes and Measures Adolescent dieting, unhealthy weight-control behaviors, and binge eating.
Results Mothers and fathers who engaged in weight-related conversations had adolescents who were more likely to diet, use unhealthy weight-control behaviors, and engage in binge eating. Overweight or obese adolescents whose mothers engaged in conversations that were focused only on healthful eating behaviors were less likely to diet and use unhealthy weight-control behaviors. Additionally, subanalyses with adolescents with data from 2 parents showed that when both parents engaged in healthful eating conversations, their overweight or obese adolescent children were less likely to diet and use unhealthy weight-control behaviors.
Conclusions and Relevance Parent conversations focused on weight/size are associated with increased risk for adolescent disordered eating behaviors, whereas conversations focused on healthful eating are protective against disordered eating behaviors.
The research team noticed that those children whose parents focused on weight and body size were more likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors like excessive weight control or binge eating. Conversely, teens whose parents focused on health and nutrition were less likely to have problematic relationships with food.
The way parents talk to their teens about food and weight is critical, as chief researcher from the study, Jerica M. Berge puts it ”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.”
So, how should parents talk to their adolescent kids about diet and nutrition? Instead of telling a teen to lay off the donuts because you think they look bad, tell them that consuming so much sugar is generally not great for the body and could make them sick.
Other than using the right language to discuss food with teens, parents should lead by example by choosing healthy foods for the sake of nutrition and exercising for longevity and wellness rather than weight loss. Basically, teenagers feel shitty enough all the time; value health and feeling good over more shallow pursuits.
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