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Moms Influence Teen Dieting, Weight

Parents' Best Bet: Be Healthy Role Models for Kids, Researchers Say
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 6, 2005 -- Teens may look aloof, but they quietly notice what their mothers seem to think about their weight.

Their perceptions -- correct or not -- often affect adolescent interest in dieting, according to a study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The study shows that teens are more likely to want to be slimmer and to diet frequently if they correctly believed that their mothers want them to be thin or lean.

The researchers who worked on the study include Alison Field, ScD, of Harvard Medical School, Boston's Brigham & Women's Hospital, and Children's Hospital in Boston.

Weighty Beliefs

Field and colleagues gave surveys to more than 9,000 girls and boys aged 11-18. The student's moms also took part.

The surveys covered body image and weight. Topics for adolescent girls included:

  • How important is it to you to be thin?
  • How often in the past year have you dieted to lose weight or not gain weight?
  • How much effort have you made in the last year to try to look like girls or women on TV, in movies, or in magazines?
  • How important is it to your mom that you be thin?

The boys' surveys were worded a bit differently. Their questions focused on not being fat.

"Male subjects are more likely to be focused on wanting to increase muscle tone rather than being thin," the researchers write.

Moms were asked how often in the past year they had wanted to or tried to lose weight.

Many Young Dieters

Many adolescents -- especially girls -- expressed a desire to be thinner.

A third of the girls reported thinking frequently about wanting to be thinner. So did 8% of the boys.

Nearly one in 10 girls (8%) had dieted frequently in the previous year. Frequent dieting was defined as dieting every day or two to six times weekly.

Girls were also more likely to diet if their moms had done so in the past year, the study shows.

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