A Better Way to Help Your Overweight Teen

Study: focus on healthier eating, not weight and size

overweight teenage girl

It’s not what you’re saying. It’s how you’re saying it.

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When you talk to your teens about their being overweight and all they do is tune you out, there may be a good reason.

Accentuate the positive of eating healthy

A new study says that focusing on the weight and size of your child while talking to them about eating better may actually cause them to diet less.

Andrea Rumschlag did not take part in the study but is a registered pediatric dietitian at Cleveland Clinic.

“When you talk to your children, especially about health and nutrition, you want to focus on the positives,” says Ms. Rumschlag. “You should focus on the healthy eating rather than solely focusing on weight.”

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Mom and dad on the same page

University of Minnesota researchers surveyed more than 2,300 teenagers and their parents.

They found that the overweight kids who had both parents talking to them and promoting healthy eating behaviors — rather than discussing their weight and size — were more likely to listen to their advice.

“It’s especially important for both parents to have the same message,” Ms. Rumschlag says. “The last thing you want is for your child or teen to get conflicting messages from mom or from dad, or from both.”

“Make sure both of you are on the same page,” Ms. Rumschlag stresses.

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Build self-esteem early

Researcher say adolescence is a time when many young people develop bad eating habits, so it’s important for parents to understand what kinds of conversations may be helpful — or harmful.

“With teens, and especially the early-adolescent pre-teen years, it’s very important that you’re focusing on building their self-esteem,” Ms. Rumschlag says.

Tips to help your kids

Strategies Ms. Rumschlag suggests for helping kids eat — and feel — better:

  • Focus on family meals. Aim to have dinner together at least four nights of the week, at a table and without TV, cell phones or other distractions.
  • Set a good example by making the same healthy choices you expect your children to make.
  • Involve your children in planning healthy meals and snacks for the week. Visit a farmers’ market and let your teen choose a new fruit or vegetable to try, then prepare and enjoy eating it together.
  • Provide positive feedback unrelated to food, body image or weight. Compliment your child on a job well done at school, success with their sports team or extracurricular activity.

“Make sure they’re learning how to make the right choices for themselves,” says Ms. Rumschlag. “Not just for now, but for later on.”

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