Weight Talk At Home Leads To Teen Eating Disorders

healthy-teen-eatingThis just in: apples do not fall far from trees.

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.

Story via HealthLine//Image via Shutterstock

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    • Erynn

      I lived with just my dad and sister until I was 12, and neither of them really ever talked about weight or focused on it at all. I didn’t know how lucky I was lol, in retrospect a ton of my peers had ALREADY started hating their bodies and I was still happily oblivious to that entire culture. Then my dad married this woman (who he is no longer with) who spent most of her time either putting down her own looks or putting down her daughter’s looks or putting down celebrity’s looks or thin shaming me and lo and behold I developed most of the major eating disorders at different points (overeating, bulimia, anorexia), and now 8 years later I am working on strengthening my body and loving it and vowing never to put my children through that kind of negative talk. I was lucky enough to know what it was like not to have body image issues at one point in my life…some girls never do…I hope to give that to somebody else someday.

      • Joanna Rafael

        Thank you for sharing! I’m glad you’re doing well.

    • Fabel

      Yeah, my mom was always very conscious of this, but sometimes TOO conscious? Like, when she would slip up & body-shame herself, she’d then reprimand herself out loud…which made me focus on the comments more. It didn’t lead to an eating disorder, but I had some disordered patterns & I remember FEARING the fuck out of puberty (one of the things my mom commented on about herself was her hips–so I became terrified of growing hips).

    • Katy Hearne

      THANK YOU for this. Seriously. When I was 13 my mom took me to a specialist because I was getting chubby. The dietitian suggested some girls just go through a chubby phase & I’d probably grow out of it. I don’t remember any discussion of healthy eating. I do remember them taking me weight, measurements & blood.
      That night after my mother went to bed I shame-ate an entire box of those hostess chocolate/ peanut butter bars. Between 13 & 16 I put on 25 pounds. Healthy eating was never discussed. By this time I had a server binge eating problem.

      That summer (when I was 16) I started purging & excessive exercise & lost 30 pounds. Then my mother took me to an eating disorder specialist. Again- I remember no discussion of balanced diet. Just shame for what I was eating & when I was eating (always always binging after my parents went to bed).

      I love my mother. She didn’t know how to handle this. The moral of the story is: if you take your kids to McDonalds twice a week & serve mac & cheese & keep those hostess chocolate peanut butter things in your house– don’t shame your child. Take a deeper look!