According to a University of Minnesota study, when it comes to healthy eating and weight control, parents who put a positive spin on the topic could see positive results in their kids.
The study examined a sample of 2,800 Twin Cities teens from a 2010 U of M health behavior survey and a second survey of parents.
Ultimately, researchers found that 64 percent of overweight teens tried unhealthy weight-loss tactics and also binge ate when their mothers discussed their weight with them. However, only 40 percent of the overweight teens employed poor dieting behaviors when their mothers only talked about healthy eating and healthy behaviors.
Kitty Westin became an activist for people struggling with eating disorders after she witnessed an eating disorder take her daughter's life in February of 2000. Westin is now a part of the Emily Program Foundation that aims to ease the battle.
"Anna struggled with anorexia nervosa and she was diagnosed was she was 16 and she died when she was 21 years old," Westin recalled.
Thirteen years after Anna's death, Westin believes Dr. Jerica Berge's study could be the beginning of a breakthrough.
"There's pretty clear patterns that focusing really on the healthy eating was protective or associated with protective behaviors in children so they engage in less of the disordered eating type of behaviors," Berge said.
According to the Emily Program Foundation, 42 percent of 1st- through 3rd-grade girls want to be thinner and 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, which is why foundation advocates praise the study and emphasize extra mindfulness when talking to children about eating habits and weight.
Dr. Claudia Fox is the director of the Amplatz Children's Hospital pediatric weight management program and says it's important for the child to advocate for his or her own health as well
"There doesn't need to be any badgering, ‘Did you eat that, don't eat that.' Make a healthy home for the kid and let the kid decide," Fox said.
Her approach supports the results of Berge's study and Westin's mission.
"This kind of research will give parents, caregivers, healthcare professionals the tools, and maybe eventually put us eating disorder folks out of business," Westin said.
The study results can be used as a cautionary tale: Parent conversations that focus on weight and size are associated with increased risk for disordered eating behaviors, but conversations about healthy eating could potentially stifle those behaviors, and perhaps, instill healthy practices for the future.
ABOUT THE STUDY
Study by: Jerica M. Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT; Rich MacLehose, PhD; Katie A. Loth, MPH, RD; Marla Eisenberg, ScD, MPH; Michaela M. Bucchianeri, PhD; Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, RD, MPH
Participants were from a socioeconomically and racially/ethnically diverse sample. Teen mean age was 14.4 years, parent mean age was 42.3 years.