Moms Influence Teen Dieting, Weight
Parents' Best Bet: Be Healthy Role Models for Kids, Researchers Say
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 &
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
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.
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
- How important is it to you to be thin?
- How often in the past year have you dieted to lose weight or not gain
- 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
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
Girls were also more likely to diet if their moms had done so in the past
year, the study shows.
Interest in Dieting
Adolescents voiced more interest in being thin (for girls) or not fat (for
boys) if they thought that their moms wanted them to be thin or lean.
Girls were particularly sensitive to those perceptions. Even girls who were
totally wrong in thinking that their moms wanted thin kids tended to express
heightened interest in dieting.
That's in comparison to girls who knew their moms didn't mind if they
The same wasn't true for boys. They only reported thinking a lot about not
being fat if it truly mattered to their moms.
Walking a Fine Line
Many adults and children face weight problems. Extra pounds can bring health
risks (though not everyone who is overweight has poor health). But obsessing
about weight isn't healthy, either.
"High levels of concern with weight are associated with the initiation
of using unhealthy weight control behaviors," the researchers write.
"It is essential to strike a balance between promoting a healthy weight
and not placing too much emphasis on the importance of weight," they
Researcher's Tips for Parents
Field spoke with WebMD earlier this year about how parents can help
Her new study includes these tips for parents:
- Know that your dieting and beliefs about weight trickle down to your
- Be a healthy role model.
- Make physical activity and good nutrition a part of daily life.
- Don't just exercise or eat healthfully to lose weight.
Doctors should also emphasize the benefits of physical activity that aren't
related to weight, such as self-esteem, the researchers note.