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Focus on Health, Not Fat, in Food Talks With Kids

Teens whose parents harped about weight gain tended to have more unhealthy eating behaviors, study shows
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About 33 percent of moms and 32 percent of dads of non-overweight kids said they discussed weight and the need to lose weight; for overweight kids, that number rose to 60 percent of moms and 59 percent of dads.

Berge stressed that even when parents say all the right things about eating, it doesn't matter much if children see Mom and Dad ignoring their own advice.

It's "do as I do," she said. "Modeling does have a big role in showing kids the type of behavior that you want them to take on."

Also, Berge added, "these conversations have to happen way more than at dinner. They are not in-the-moment conversations, but ongoing ones."

Outside experts were quick to agree that focusing on health is more valuable than nagging kids about their weight and size.

"Telling people that they are fat or overweight is not in the best interest of the adolescent," said Dr. Ronald Feinstein, an adolescent medicine specialist at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "We need to focus on healthy lifestyle, and parents need to lead by example," he said. This includes appropriate meal planning and having healthy food available.

Sometimes this involves a little troubleshooting, Feinstein added.

"At a restaurant, quietly ask the server not to put the bread basket out, or hand out one slice to everyone and then have it removed, so it's the family making the decision and no one feels left out," he said. "Set an example and avoid putting kids in a position where they have to make poor choices."

Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, in Washington, D.C., agreed that weight is not always an easy subject to broach with adolescents.

"Some parents would rather talk about sex and drugs than weight," he said.

"I always try to focus on health, not appearance," Kahan added. The new findings "lend further weight to the importance of finding careful loving, supportive and appropriate ways of discussing health with kids," he said.

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