Here’s why it’s best to skip any talk about dieting or weight with your child or teen.
Childhood obesity is a growing issue in the United States, so it would make sense that parents would be more inclined than ever to encourage their kids to lose weight. Of course, being overweight when children are in their formative years can lead to a host of chronic health problems in the future. But putting too much emphasis on a child’s or teen’s weight, body type or diet may cause equally dangerous issues.
The connection between a child’s weight and self-esteem are intricately connected. On a regular basis, kids are bombarded with images and pressures that may cause them to have a poor body image. Kids may already feel the pressure to be “thinner” or “more beautiful” due to what they see in society, whether in person, movies, television, or on social media. When parents or other family members put emphasis on a child’s weight, it can add to this pressure.
Whether self-motivated or due to family pressures, the feeling that children and teens need to lose weight or change the way they look can lead to disordered eating, unhealthy relationships with food, and mental health issues. That’s why although many children are overweight, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics do not recommend putting children on diets, no matter what their weight. The exception to this recommendation is if a child has a serious health condition or food allergy that requires a specific diet.
Not only can the consequences of putting a child or teen on a diet be negative, but even just talking about dieting or a child’s weight can lead to issues. In fact, research shows that kids who are surrounded by diet talk, are told to lose weight or are teased about their weight are more at risk of developing eating disorders. So instead of focusing on dieting, experts recommend encouraging healthy lifestyle behaviors as a preferred method for helping to keep your child’s weight under control.
Here are some tips parents can use to encourage healthier behaviors without putting an emphasis on diet or weight:
- Get kids involved in planning meals, shopping for food and cooking.
- Keep healthy foods in the house and limit the amount of junk food available at home.
- Make family meal times a priority. Find ways to be physically active while having fun together.
- Don’t forbid specific foods. Encourage the enjoyment of all foods in moderation.
- Avoid severely limiting portions. Instead, encourage kids to listen to their body’s cues about hunger and fullness.
- Encourage specific meal and snack times to help your child avoid mindless grazing.
- Focus on health over weight and don’t make negative comments about your child’s size or shape.
- Don’t talk about your own struggles with weight and body image in front of children.
- Model healthy habits. Kids often mimic behaviors they see from parents and other loved ones.
If you are concerned about your child’s weight, or suspect that they are struggling with disordered eating or other mental health issues, talk to your child’s doctor. He or she may be able to give you suggestions for helping them develop healthy habits. A registered dietitian or mental health professional may also help.
“Continue to offer your child a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, even if they don’t always want to eat them. Kids can eventually become interested after watching their friends and family eat different foods. Getting them involved in the kitchen is a great way to show them that vegetables aren’t so scary after all! If you want to make changes in your family’s lifestyle but not sure where to start, talking to your child’s doctor is a great first step.“
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Date Last Reviewed: July 20, 2023
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
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