Weight Talks With Kids Can Lead to Eating Disorders

By Chrisanne Grise 06/26/13

Parents should emphasize healthy eating rather than focus on a child's weight, new research suggests.

No "fat" talk at the table. Photo via

Parents who discuss dieting and weight loss in the home may boost their kids' chances of developing an eating disorder, a new study suggests. According to research by the University of Minnesota Medical School, when parents emphasize body weight (by saying something like “You shouldn’t eat dessert because it will make you fat”) it is more likely that the child will end up trying to slim down through unhealthy activities like dieting or binging and purging. The study found children were healthier and less prone to eating disorders if their parents simply encouraged "healthy eating"—rather than weight loss. "Adolescence is a time when more youths engage in disordered eating behaviors,” says study lead Jerica M. Berge. “It is important for parents to understand what types of conversations may be helpful or harmful in regard to disordered eating behaviors and how to have these conversations with their adolescents." Another important tactic is to lead by example, say experts. "The kids will follow more what their parents do, rather than what they say," explains Dr. Russell Marx, chief science officer with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). “If you’re modeling good behavior, it’s going to come through.”  A study last year found that kids are developing eating disorders at an increasingly younger age, and an astonishing 80% of 10-year-old girls had already tried dieting at least once.

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.