Friday, June 8, 2018

When Parents Encourage Children and Teens to Diet

Vol. 29 / No. 2  

Parents who tell a child or teen they need to go on a weight loss diet might be surprised at the long-term outcome. According to Dr. Jerica M. Berge and researchers at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, encouraging children and teens to diet can have harmful long-term weight, weight-related and emotional health effects in adulthood and can even be transmitted to the next generation (Pediatrics. March 2018; published online before print.)
Dr. Berge and her fellow researchers have hypothesized that teens who were encouraged to diet by their parents before the age of 19 would be at higher risk for developing unhealthy dieting behaviors, would weigh more and have worse emotional health when they became adults. They also would be more likely to encourage their own kids to diet.
The authors used data from 1998-1999 and follow-up surveys about 17 years later from Project EAT, a longitudinal study of dietary intake, physical activity, weight control behaviors, and weight status ( After initial school-based surveys and anthropometric measurements with middle school and high school students and interviews and surveys of their parents, the students were followed after 5 and 10 years, as they transitioned to early and middle young adulthood. The EAT surveys also trace behavioral changes during the transition from young adulthood to parenthood. The study group included 556 socioeconomically, racially and/or ethnically diverse adolescents (64.6% female) who provided data at both time points.

What the analysis showed

The authors’ hypotheses were largely confirmed. Teens who were encouraged to diet by their parents had a higher risk of using unhealthy diet behaviors, had poorer emotional outcomes, and worse body satisfaction. There was, in fact, intergenerational transmission: teens who were encouraged to diet were more likely to encourage their children to diet.

Finding ways to intervene earlier

The authors discussed their work from the perspective of Family Systems Theory (FST), which states that the family’s home environment has the greatest influence on weight and weight-related behaviors among children, and that behaviors learned in the family setting in which a person is raised are passed on from generation to generation. They highlight the potential value of the findings for developing preventive interventions. The same preventative effects might be used in treatment to help build a rationale for change (that is, changing eating behaviors and attitudes via ED treatment and to avoid intergenerational transmission of thoughts and attitudes).

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