Want to Prevent Childhood Obesity? Don’t Talk About It

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

The childhood obesity epidemic continues to plague the United States, especially since big food corporations have been so effective at marketing their unhealthy products to kids. But there’s been ongoing disagreement about how to best address the issue of obesity within the context of the U.S.’ bad track record on body issues and fat-shaming. The results from a new study give parents some guidance when it comes to bringing up the topic with their kids: instead of focusing on weight, talk about nutrition.

After researchers from the University of Minnesota compiled data from different surveys on adolescents’ eating behaviors and family environments, they found that kids are more likely to diet if their parents talk to them about their weight. But disordered eating behaviors — like fasting, throwing up, taking laxatives and diet pills, or binge eating — was also most common among that same group of kids. About 64 percent of overweight teens whose mothers talked to them about their weight reported that they engaged in dieting and disordered eating, compared to 40 percent of teens whose mothers emphasized healthy eating instead.

That pattern held true for the kids who weren’t overweight, too. Among the teen participants whose mothers talked to them about weight and who reported they were on a diet, 35.3 percent were actually already at a healthy weight. And 5.9 percent of those kids exhibited “extreme” unhealthy eating behaviors. On the other hand, about 22 percent of kids at healthy weights whose mothers emphasized nutritious choices reported that they were on a diet, and just 1.6 percent of them engaged in “extreme” unhealthy eating habits.

The study ultimately found that having just one parent talk about either weight or healthful eating affected kids’ likelihood of developing body issues and eating problems. It makes sense that teens are so vulnerable to comments about their weight from authority figures, since most eating disorders first appear in adolescence. Ninety-five percent of the Americans who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25, and 86 percent of those people report that their unhealthy relationship with food began before they turned 20. And disordered eating is beginning to display at younger ages, partly because of the unrealistic body images that continue to be marketed to kids.

Other studies have found that anti-obesity campaigns that emphasize size — which nearly always have the end result of shaming overweight children — don’t actually help kids lose weight. Nevertheless, it remains a popular advertising tactic. Recently, a campaign warning against the harmful effects of childhood obesity Photoshopped a little girl in its ad to make her look fat.

This post was originally published at ThinkProgress.


Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Stacey Toda
Stacey Toda4 years ago

Good info, thanks

Genoveva M.
Genoveva M M4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

John De Avalon
John De Avalon4 years ago

Exercise and natural food! That's the key.

paul m.
paul m4 years ago

Noted....Good comments...

tin leng lim
tin leng lim4 years ago

Thank you.

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga4 years ago


Activist Inspireharmony

Way Beyond Weight :Way Beyond Weight is a documentary about obesity, the biggest epidemic in the history that affects children. For the first time children have the same disease symptoms as adults: heart and breathing problems, depression, and type 2 diabetes. All of them are based on obesity. Worldwide, kids are heavier than they should be. And unhealthy. From Brazil to Kuwait, childhood obesity is becoming very common. Why are kids carrying this extra weight? The industry, the marketers, the parents, the governments. Who is responsible for raising a healthy child? Beyond Weight is a movie that seeks to answer those questions in depth. It interviews families, kids and specialists from all over the world. "Way Beyond Weight" is a movie that seeks to answer those questions in depth. It interviews families, kids and specialists from all over the world.

GGma Sheila D.
GGmaSAway D4 years ago

I agree with many comments when it comes to getting children, and teens, away from the electronic devices and outside, even to take a family walk after supper. Back in the 70s and 80s when my children were growing up the big thing was get the children away from the TV. My boys didn't watch hardly any television, partly because MTV was big and we didn't have it. They walked or rode bike everywhere they wanted to get to because we didn't have a car.

There is one sign of the times and that is the parents have to be outside with their children, even if they have a fenced yard - too many predators running around now. Parents now don't have that kind of time because of the economy - or they're the ones glued to electronic devices..

Kay M.
Kay M4 years ago

promoting positive behavior is probably more successfull than punishing negative. ignoring something wouldn't usually seem to be the most productive.