Policy Point Wednesday: Talking to Your Kids About Their Health

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAH/T to Science of Mom:

The Journal of the American Medical Association’s Pediatrics  just published a study by the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.  As part of long-term project EAT (Eating Among Teens), a study “to identify the socio-environmental, personal, and behavioral determinants of nutritional intake and weight  status among a large and ethnically diverse adolescent population,”  researchers studied the outcomes of different ways in parents approached the health of their teens.

Not surprisingly, the study concluded that “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.”  For instance, 64% of obese or overweight teens surveyed used unhealthy weight loss techniques (dieting, laxatives, etc.) or engaged in binge eating – and had parents who either told them they were overweight or told them to eat better to avoid being overweight.  Conversely, having a parents discuss healthy eating habits without talking about body shape dropped this figure to about 40% (Without any discussion, 53% of overweight teens showed unhealthy eating behaviors.)  The study found a similar pattern in teens of average weight.  One article on the study does offer a caveat: while the study finds a high correlation between parental conversation and eating behavior, researchers were not able to account for whether the conversation or the unhealthy behavior came first; as with any correlation, other factors may be involved.

In an interview for Time, lead author Jerica Berge notes that many parents and doctors are worried about the right way to discuss weight with overweight teens.  “The answer, she says, is to avoid bringing attention to how your child looks or how much they weigh; instead, talk to them about being healthy and don’t compare them to others or to an ideal, reference weight.”  She also notes that it is especially important for both parents to present a unified front on healthy eating, as having fathers involved in the discussion had an even stronger statistical effect, either for better or for worse.

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