Pressuring Kids to Diet Can Backfire, Damaging Long-Term Health
Jim Liebelt Jim Liebelt's Blog
- 2019 Oct 10
*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on MedicalXpress.
Parents want the best for their children. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Exercise. But sometimes pressuring your teen to diet or lose weight may end up harming them, a new study suggests.
It found that parents who urge their kids to diet might actually be boosting their odds for obesity later in life. It's also tied to an increased risk for eating disorders.
The phenomenon can even stretch across generations, said study lead author Jerica Berge, professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota.
"This new study was conducted over many years, and we can see that these messages stay with someone longitudinally—someone who had [experienced] it now does that to their kid, passing it on, giving it to the next generation," said Berge.
In the study, Berge's group looked at data from surveys completed by more than 1,100 adolescents from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area from 1998 to 1999. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed were girls.
The respondents then filled out follow-up surveys at five-year intervals beginning in 2003, until they entered their 30s.
By the third survey, more than 40% of young women and 27% of young men said they received encouragement from their mothers to diet to stay slim. About 20% of young females and 18% of young males said they'd gotten similar messages from their dads.
The study couldn't prove a direct cause-and-effect, but parental pressure to get and stay slim was associated with poorer health in young adulthood, the study found. There seemed to be a cumulative effect on adult behaviors centered on weight, weight-related behaviors, and psychosocial well-being, the Minneapolis team found.
For example, by the end of the study—15 years after the first questionnaires had been filled out—girls who'd been pressured to diet had a 49% higher odds of being an obese young adult compared to girls who hadn't gotten that parental pressure. Boys who had a similar experience had a 13% higher odds of becoming obese young men, the researchers reported.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.