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03-15 National Nutrition Month: Parental diet pressures during adolescence can lead to obesity and eating disorders during adulthood, finds study

Posted in eating disorders

National Nutrition Month: Parental diet pressures during adolescence can lead to obesity and eating disorders during adulthood, finds study

Parents may feel that they have the best intentions while encouraging their children to diet and lose weight, but they fail to realize that these efforts can often have a detrimental impact. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics in March 2018 found that the harmful impact of such parental encouragement could last well into adulthood and also be transmitted to the next generation.

Adults whose parents pressed them to diet as adolescents had a higher likelihood of becoming obese, developing eating disorders, and having lower body satisfaction during adulthood. The study found that 37 percent adolescents had been urged to diet by their parents. The likelihood of experiencing this was higher among girls, and among those aged younger, from underprivileged families, obese/overweight, or were ethnic minorities.

Adolescents who were urged to diet had a:

  • 37 percent higher likelihood of being obese, and a 25 percent higher likelihood of being overweight when they became adults, than those who had no diet-related restrictions during adolescence
  • 72 percent higher likelihood of engaging in binge-eating, and a 79 percent higher likelihood of having harmful weight-control behaviors as adults, than those who were not urged to diet as adolescents

Although the study identified that adolescents can suffer long-term and harmful impacts from parental diet pressures, there is no denying the benefits of healthy food intake, developing good eating habits and exercising. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has designated March as National Nutrition Month to promote key messages like eating a balanced diet, being aware of portion sizes, avoiding food wastage, and seeking nutritional advice from registered dietitians. The theme for 2018 is “Go Further with Food.”

Under pressure from parents, teens adopt unhealthy habits

An important finding of the study was that adolescents who were pressured to diet had a nearly 50 percent higher likelihood of pushing their own children to diet, once they became parents. Families in which one of the parents was forced to diet as adolescents had a 40 percent higher likelihood of teasing each other regarding weight. The researchers collected data on 556 adolescents (average age: 15 years) through school-based eating surveys, along with data from online surveys administered 15 years later, by when such adolescents had become parents (average age: 31.4 years, 64.6 percent women).

Although both teens and adults aspire to develop healthy eating habits to control their weight, it can be a challenge to do so. Under pressure from parents to lose weight, teens tend to adopt unhealthy practices such as avoiding meals, using diet pills, laxatives or low-calorie detoxes.

Focusing on healthy eating practices

According to lead author Jerica M. Berge, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, instead of emphasizing weight, parents can focus on having “healthy conversations.” Talking about healthy eating can ensure family members’ longevity and physical strength. Nutritional experts believe that parents and caregivers need to set examples for their children by promoting healthy associations with food and positive body image discussions.

Excessive focus on weight and ideal body size can lead to acute embarrassment for teens. It is important to create a supportive environment focusing on healthy eating practices rather than weight. Even seemingly harmless teasing involving body weight or appearance (particularly by fathers/brothers) can lead to the development of anorexia nervosa.

Treatment for teen eating disorders

It is estimated that nearly 3 percent of American adolescents suffer from eating disorders, but most go without treatment for their specific condition. A multidisciplinary approach, typically comprising psychotherapy (individual and family), medication, and working with primary care physicians and nutritionists, is used to treat teen eating disorders. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego uses evidence-based treatment to overcome eating disorders in teens. If your teen is showing symptoms of eating disorders, call our 24/7 helpline or chat online to know more about our teen eating disorder treatment centers.

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