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Health & Parenting

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Parents Can Hinder Teen Weight Loss

Parents Should Ditch Diet Talks and Just Make Healthy Choices Available, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 4, 2008 -- Parents of overweight teens appear to be all talk and no action when it comes to helping their children reach and maintain a healthy weight, according to new research published in this week's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Minneapolis-based researchers have found that parents need to "talk less and do more" when encouraging their kids to become fit and trim. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD, of the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota, and colleagues found that parents who correctly recognized that their child had a weight problem talked with their kids about dieting, but this was not helpful.

Previous studies have suggested that parents do not correctly recognize if their child is overweight. Furthermore, little research has been done to determine how parents act when they correctly perceive their child's weight status.

Neumark-Sztainer's team explored whether parents of overweight teens who correctly recognized their child's weight status engaged in behaviors that helped their child's long-term weight management.

The study involved overweight adolescents from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area who participated in Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) I and II in 1999 and 2004, respectively. The researchers learned that parents who recognized their children as overweight were more likely to encourage their children to diet, but they were not more likely to have better family meal practices, such as having readily available healthy food choices such as fruits and vegetables at home rather than candy, salty snacks, or soft drinks.

The percentages of adolescents who were overweight five years later were not statistically different between those whose parents recognized them as overweight and those that didn't. In fact, such parental encouragement backfired and predicted poorer weight outcomes such as increased weight gain, especially in girls.

Researchers say their findings underscore the importance of creating a healthy home environment for children.

"Accurate classification of child overweight status may not translate into helpful behaviors and may lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as encouragement to diet," Neumark-Sztainer writes in the journal article. "Instead of focusing on weight per se, it may be more helpful to direct efforts toward helping parents provide a home environment that supports healthful eating, physical activity, and well-being."

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