Back-to-school time involves changes in just about everything: schedules, homework, sports, family time—even eating. Being rushed in the mornings makes having a decent, healthy breakfast a challenge. Families have to decide if kids will take lunch or buy the school lunch. Then comes the evening meal with people going in different directions, and often little time to prepare or eat a meal together. It’s no wonder that healthy eating and family time often take a back seat to homework, sports, and other activities.
As we all know by now, obesity among children and teens in our country is a widespread problem, and eating disorders (EDs) are also more common than before.
An article published last week on the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discusses how the same attitudes and habits can lead to both obesity and EDs. According to one study, dieting can actually be a precursor to obesity and EDs. Dieting “was associated with a twofold increased risk of becoming overweight and a 1.5-fold increased risk of binge eating… Another study found that normal weight girls who dieted in ninth grade were three times more likely to be overweight in 12th grade compared with non-dieters.”
In addition to dieting as a cause, “weight talk”—no matter how well-intentioned—and “weight teasing” can lead to EDs and obesity. “Weight talk, or comments made by family members about their own weight or to the child to encourage weight loss, has been linked to both overweight and EDs. Teasing children about their weight also has been associated with the development of overweight, binge eating and extreme weight-control behaviors in girls and overweight status in boys. Body dissatisfaction is a known risk factor for both obesity and EDs.”
So, how does a parent help a child be satisfied with her or his body? How do you encourage your teen toward a healthy relationship with food? “Adolescents who are more satisfied with their bodies report parental and peer attitudes that encourage healthful eating and exercise to be fit, rather than dieting.”
The article contains recommendations for pediatricians, and that guidance also applies to parents:
- “Discourage dieting, skipping of meals or use of diet pills to lose weight. The focus should be on a healthy lifestyle rather than on weight.
- Encourage more frequent family meals, which provide an opportunity to model healthy food choices and provide time for teenagers and parents to interact.
- Promote a positive body image among adolescents. Body dissatisfaction should not be used as a reason to lose weight.
- Encourage families not to talk about weight but rather to talk about healthy eating and being active to stay healthy.
- Carefully monitor weight loss in an adolescent who is obese or overweight to ensure the teen does not develop the medical complications of semi-starvation.”
Don’t forget family meals. Though your children and teens may roll their eyes, the time spent together around the table is a time to connect over healthy food and discussions about topics great and small. Turn off the television and cell phones (including yours!) and enjoy each other’s company. It will make all of you healthier.
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