Overweight or obese adolescents who were spoken to about their weight by their mothers and fathers were more likely to engage in binge eating and use unhealthy weight-control behaviors than teens whose parents spoke with them in terms of eating healthier, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
"I often do not even have my pediatric patients weigh themselves facing the scale; the number is not the goal," says Ashley Barrient, MEd, LPC, RD, LDN, dietician and bariatric counselor at Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care. "Kids are overwhelmed by talk of weight and dieting and feel they cannot change the numbers. But if you talk with them about the whole family making healthy eating changes as a team, they feel supported and positive change happens more frequently."
Barrient says that children typically view their family and home as a safe environment and discussion of weight by their parents is threatening and viewed as criticism. "No one likes to feel judged and criticized," said Barrient, who always involves the whole family when counseling adolescents. "By addressing the family as a group, everyone makes positive changes."
Barriant works with families in an integrated team approach at Loyola with psychologists, exercise physiologists, physicians and surgeons to combat obesity.
"Adults in the family are often struggling with unhealthy habits including skipping meals, drinking sugary beverages or engaging in frequent fast food consumption, which then influences the child's behavior," says Barrient who prioritizes improving the parenting skills in the family. "When the parent feels empowered to make health improvements, the whole family benefits."
One-third of all U.S. adults, 78 million, and 12 million children suffer from obesity, now officially called a disease by the American Medical Association. Many factors including socioeconomic dynamics, education level and residential neighborhood influence a teen's health. "Many teens report that going with their friends to a convenience store before or after school to get a soda and packaged snack food is the norm," said Barrient. "Teens are more easily influenced by what their peers are eating and doing."
Barrient's advice to parents concerned about their teenagers' weight? "You are a role model for the family, so partner with your child and improve your health together," she said.
Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care