June 17, 2016

Daughters' Weight Is a Parental Minefield

Parents of overweight teens may be tempted to remind/nag their children not to eat. Don't. Do this instead.

The relationship between girls and their bodies is a complex one. Girls' self images are developing throughout childhood and adolescence, and media representations of “ideal” bodies — in ads, fashion magazines, films and on television — don't help, since they are almost guaranteed to make anyone feel they don't measure up physically.

So parents concerned about their daughter's weight need to tread lightly. Even the most well-intentioned parents can make weight problems worse if they nag their daughters about how much they weigh, a recent study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab shows. Parents' comments can permanently warp their daughter's self image.

Women who recalled their parents commenting on their weight as children reported less satisfaction with their current weight, even if their body mass index (BMI) was in the healthy range, according to a study from Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab.

Rather than focusing on a number on the scale, parents might want to focus on their child’s eating habits.

Five hundred women between the ages of 20 and 35 years old were asked about their feelings regarding their weight and their eating habits. They were also asked how often their parents commented on their weight and/or eating habits when they were young.

A woman’s satisfaction with her body and weight were directly related to whether or not her parents had commented about her weight when she was younger, the Cornell team found. Specifically, women with a healthy BMI were less likely to report their parents commenting on their weight and less likely to say their parents commented on overeating, compared to women whose BMI indicated they were overweight.

Rather than focusing on a number on the scale, parents might want to focus on their child’s eating habits. “If you’re worried about your child’s weight, avoid criticizing them or restricting food,” Brian Wansink, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Instead, parents need to focus on helping their daughters (and sons) make healthy food choices and encouraging healthy behaviors.

Make healthy food options appealing and convenient. Have fruit and vegetables washed and ready to eat in the fridge. “After all, it’s the choices that children make for themselves that will lead to lifelong habits,” said Wansink.

The study is published in Eating & Weight Disorders.
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