Should a parent ever make comments about a child’s weight if they are overweight? Or is it better for them to just bite their tongue?
This is understandably an issue that has parents disconcerted all over the country. If they do mention something, they risk the child developing an eating disorder later in life, while if they just keep their mouths shut, they feel as though they are passing up a chance to save their kids from what may potentially become a threatening life-long health hazard.
This new research was published in the Eating & Weight Disorders journal. It shows that, although usually well-meant — the parents’ comments regarding their child’s weight often become precursors to harmful dieting behavior, overindulging as well as other potential eating disorders. It can unintentionally build upon negative stereotypes regarding the weight that kids attribute to themselves.
Especially when it comes to girls, what a mother or father says about her weight could have health consequences for her for years following. It can contribute to a girls’ chronic dislike of her own physical appearance… even when she’s not at all overweight.
“Parents with children who are diagnosed with obesity may be concerned, but it is the matter in which those concerns are addressed that could have a detrimental long-term impact,” says Rebecca Puhl, deputy director at the University of Connecticut of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
“The effect it has on girls might be especially damaging”, says Puhl, because “young women are exposed to numerous ideals about body weight and thinness, and too often a woman’s value is linked closely to their physical appearance. If the parents do not challenge these messages, they can be internalized by their daughters.”
The new research study that was conducted involved more than 500 girls between 20 and 35. They were presented with questions regarding how they viewed their body, and they were also asked how often their parents had made comments regarding their weight. The women who recalled the comments their parents made about their weight were significantly more likely to believe they should lose 10 to 20 pounds… even when they were not overweight at all.
The lead author of the study, professor and CornellUniversity’s Food and Brand Lab director Dr. Brian Wansink, noted the comments of the parents’ to have a “scarring influence.”
“We had asked these girls to comment on how often parents had said something about their weight. However, the most important issue was if they had recalled any comments at all, it was just as bad as if it happened frequently,” stated Dr. Wansink, who wrote the book “Slim by Design.” “Any comment at all seems to have lasting repercussions.”
Certain research has linked the parents’ negative remarks to a heightened risk of obesity. A massive government-subsidized research project which followed 1000’s of ten-year-old girls discovered, at the beginning of the research project, nearly 60% of these girls had said either a teacher, sibling, parent, or peer had said to them they were overweight. When they were nineteen years old, the girls that had been told they were overweight had an increased likelihood of being obese, even if they were overweight at ten years old or not.
Family members were the ones that had the greatest influence on the girls.
Certain research discovered that when parents tell their teenagers who are overweight to watch what they eat, they are at an increased risk of depression and lower self-esteem and of becoming obese within the next five years.
A study by a professor at the University of Minnesota, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, discovered when parents discussed weight loss with their teens, the teenagers had an increased likelihood of diet, use harmful weight loss methods, and then result in overeating. This is not as likely to happen when parents talk to their children about healthy eating behaviors, instead of the child’s weight or weight loss options.
Negative statements regarding the weight of a child may send the message that the parents are “connecting the child’s perceived value to their,” Dr. Puhl says, which can invoke negative emotions and low self-esteem. “Kids are taking that to heart and believe they are not okay as a human being. This is what leads to harmful outcomes in the future like disordered eating.”
Dr. Neumark-Sztainer was overwhelmed by the parents asking her the following questions, “How can I prevent my kids from becoming obese without hurting their feeling and impacting their self-image?”
So what are parents supposed to do? Are they supposed to just stand idly by while their kids become overweight?
In Dr. Neumark-Sztainer’s book, titled “I’m, Like, SO Fat: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight-Obsessed World,” she mentions the fact that parents can affect their children’s eating habits without even talking about them. “I promote the notion of speaking less and doing more. Meaning makes your house an area where it is easier to choose healthy eating and more physical activity, as opposed to talking about weight.”
This means for parents to keep healthy food in the house as opposed to junk food and soda. It helps to sit down and enjoy dinners together as a family as well as set being a role model by physically active yourself. You should get the family to go for bike rides or walks. It also means that you should no talk about your own weight. Dr. Puhl said, “These types of actions speak louder than words.”
So when the kids are young you really don’t need to talk about healthy eating habits or weight problems and simply just show them a healthy way of life.
One healthy and fun way to lose weight and get your children involved is to do yoga at home together.