Health News

Spotlighting teen's weight fuels unhealthy eating

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Overweight adolescents may be more likely to continue practicing extreme eating or weight-control measures when their parents focus too much weight issues, study findings suggest.

But family sit-down meals and regular eating patterns may protect adolescents from continued weight-related problems, propose Dr. Dianne R. Neumark-Sztainer of the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, and colleagues.

“I advise parents to talk less about weight and do more to make the home environment one in which it is easy to engage in healthy eating and exercise behaviors,” Neumark-Sztainer told Reuters Health.

The investigators analyzed overweight, binge eating, and extreme weight-control measures (such as induced vomiting, diet pills or laxative use), and social or personal behavioral factors potentially associated with these measures among 2,516 adolescents attending Minneapolis/St. Paul middle and high schools. A total of 1,311 girls and 1,069 boys participated in the study.

Information collected at the start of the study, when the students were 13 years or 16 years on average, compared with information gathered 5 years later, showed that 44 percent of the girls and 29 percent of the boys had continuing weight-related problems.

Weight-teasing by family, personal weight concerns and dieting/unhealthy weight-control behaviors “strongly and consistently” predicted being overweight, binge eating, and engaging in extreme weight-control behaviors after 5 years, the investigators report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

By contrast, frequent family meals, a positive atmosphere at family meals, and frequent lunch eating appeared to limit risk for binge eating and using extreme weight-control measures over time.

These findings help identify factors associated with continued weight-related problems among adolescents, the researchers note.

“By addressing risk factors for eating disorders, such as weight-teasing or unhealthy dieting or body dissatisfaction, we may also be able to reduce the prevalence of obesity in adolescents,” Neumark-Sztainer said.

SOURCE: The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, November 2007.