Doctors Want Parents To Stop Nagging Kids About Their Weight

Photographed by Fernanda Silva.
Our parents' relationships with food can have a profound effect on our own — and mothers' attitudes exert particular influence on young women's developing relationships with nutrition, exercise, and their bodies. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the antidote is clear: Parents — and doctors — should keep the focus on health rather than weight. The group's new guidelines, published online recently in the journal Pediatrics, outline the way parents' and peers' behavior may set kids up for obesity and/or an eating disorder. Researchers and doctors developed the new guidelines to address the increasing number of teens and pre-teens resorting to unhealthy weight-loss methods. Because these patients often don't fit the stereotype of people with eating disorders (EDs), they may fall through the cracks and not be diagnosed until other health issues develop. "Most adolescents who develop an ED did not have obesity previously," the authors write, "but some adolescents may misinterpret what 'healthy eating' is and engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as skipping meals or using fad diets in an attempt to 'be healthier,' the result of which could be the development of an ED."' In particular, the way parents talk about weight with their kids seems to have a huge impact. Having a parent who criticizes a child's weight or talks about his or her own body in an unsatisfied way may also do some damage. "Mothers who talk about their own bodies and weights can inadvertently encourage their kids to have body dissatisfaction," explains lead author Neville Golden, MD, in a press release. So the guidelines offer several science-backed recommendations to help parents and doctors navigate this topic: Parents shouldn't encourage dieting or talk about their child's weight or their own weight, nor should they ever tease a child about his or her weight. Then, to promote healthier relationships with food, families should try to eat together, so parents can encourage their kids to eat a balanced diet. Finally, parents should make overall health, rather than weight loss, the goal of any type of fitness activity. Crucially, the authors argue that these recommendations aren't just for kids who have issues with their weights — they should apply to everyone.

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