Report: Telling teens to lose weight may be harmful

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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) -- Could telling your child to lose weight and putting them on a diet be causing them more harm than good?

That's what a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which combined the results of previous research studies, seems to suggest.

In one study of nine to 14-year-olds, researchers found that diets imposed by parents were "associated with greater weight gain and increased rates of binge eating in both boys and girls." In another, 'weight talk,' or comments made by family members about their own weight and/or comments made towards children, was linked to "higher rates of overweight [adolescents]."

Kara Meeks, a registered dietitian at Augusta Health in Fishersville, said the findings matched her experience working with children and teens.

"We can be well-intentioned with our children, in trying to help them be healthier, but one negative word can cause a lot of repercussions," said Meeks.

Meeks said parents who have concerns over their child's weight should check with a physician, who may determine their BMI (body-mass index). Unlike in adults, the primary focus should be on the percentage on the growth curve. For example, a body weight above the 95th percentile would be considered 'obese,' according to Meeks.

Meeks said that while she understood parents' concerns for their child's health, she thought society was putting too much emphasis on weight in adolescence.

"Of course, being overweight can lead to health problems down the road," said Meeks. "But with kids, we also have to realize that as they grow, sometimes their bodies change and develop and grow in different ways and they could grow into themselves, so to speak."

But what can parents do to encourage healthier habits in their children without harming them?

Meeks suggested families should work towards being more healthy together, rather than singling one person out.

"Parents have a lot more control than they realize," said Meeks. "When you go to the grocery store, maybe instead of buying the Doritos, you opt for popcorn and just start with making a few small changes in the diet of the entire family."

Meeks said, however, that it was not necessarily a good idea to put a child themselves on a diet.