This important study will make any parent reconsider talking about their kids' weight
It’s so important to help children feel loved and accepted in their own skin. If a child is overweight,though, parents may be concerned and want to intervene to avoid potential health issues. That’s perfect understandable — however, a new study says that parents shouldn’t make comments about a their kids’ weight, even if intentions are nothing but good.
The study, which was published in the journal Eating & Weight Disorders, found that even well-meaning comments from parents about their child’s weight can be internalized and cause unhealthy eating patterns and disorders that continue throughout the child’s life, even if they grow to be a healthy weight.
“Parents who have a child who’s identified as having obesity may be worried, but the way those concerns are discussed and communicated can be really damaging,” Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, told New York Times. “The longitudinal research shows it can have a lasting impact.”
The study was conducted on 500 women in their 20s and early 30s who were surveyed about their body image and their parents’ comments, if any, on their weight. The weight of the subjects didn’t matter — women who experienced more critiques from their parents were more likely to have a negative image of their body and think they need to lose weight.
Puhl told New York Times that women and girls are especially susceptible to this effect because “girls are exposed to so many messages about thinness and body weight, and oftentimes women’s value is closely linked to their appearance. If parents don’t challenge those messages, they can be internalized.”
Even occasional comments can have a “scarring” effect, according to the study’s lead author Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. “We asked the women to recall how frequently parents commented, but the telling thing was that if they recalled it happening at all, it had as bad an influence as if it happened all the time,” he told New York Times. “A few comments were the same as commenting all the time. It seems to make a profound impression.”
However, that’s not to say that nothing can be done if a parent is concerned about their child’s weight. Parents should concentrate not on saying anything, but on showing by example. “I try to promote the idea of talking less and doing more — doing more to make your home a place where it’s easy to make healthy eating and physical activity choices, and talking less about weight,” Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, professor at the University of Minnesota, told New York Times. Sounds like good advice to us!