Parents, you may want to watch your mouths. What you say to adolescents about healthy eating – and how you say it – may have a major impact on their food intake and perceptions about a healthy body image according to new research out of the University of Minnesota.
The article, “Parent Conversations About Healthful Eating and Weight,” was published online this week in JAMA Pediatrics. The study shows that conversations with parents about weight or size were associated with more dieting and disordered eating behaviors among adolescents – and not just among those considered overweight.
“Because parents are well aware of the childhood and adolescent obesity problem, it is normal for parents to want to have conversations with their children about being healthy, but we wanted to see if the types of conversations they had with their adolescents made a difference,” said Jerica Berge, Ph.D., M.P.H., lead author on the study and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Analysis of surveys from both adolescents and parents shows conversations about healthful eating motivate children and teens to make healthy choices. Conversely, conversations focused on weight and size, even by just one parent, are associated with increased risk for dieting and disordered eating behaviors.
The results held true for both overweight and non-overweight children.
“We hope these results encourage parents to have more discussions about healthful eating and living, rather than weight conversations,” said Berge. She also believes the results may be helpful for health care providers who work with parents of adolescents. “It seems intuitive for parents to address a child’s eating habits, especially if the child is overweight, but our research shows the words we choose as parents can make a significant difference.”
Berge is a co-investigator on Project EAT and Project F-EAT, research projects out of the Division of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health. These projects focus on the dietary patterns of teens and the influences of family and home, respectively.