Doctors and parents can use a single approach to prevent both obesity and eating disorders in teenagers. That’s the message from new guidelines released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The guidelines were developed to help teens avoid unhealthy weight-loss strategies, which can lead both to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and to repeated cycles of weight loss and regain that ultimately cause obesity. The new advice says pediatricians and parents should avoid encouraging restrictive diets, should not engage in “weight talk” such as commenting on their own or a child’s weight, and should never tease teens about their weight. Eating regular family meals and encouraging balanced eating and exercise for fitness rather than weight loss are helpful, the guidelines say.
Stanford pediatrician Neville Golden, MD, who is chief of adolescent medicine at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and a physician with the hospital’s Comprehensive Eating Disorders Program, was a lead author on the new guidelines. In our press release, he explained some of the rationale behind the new advice:
‘Scientific evidence increasingly shows that for teenagers, dieting is bad news,’ Golden said. Teens who diet in ninth grade are three times more likely than their peers to be overweight in 12th grade, for instance. And calorie-counting diets can deprive growing teenagers of the energy they need and lead to symptoms of anorexia nervosa, which may even become life-threatening. ‘It’s not unusual for us to see young people who have rapidly lost a lot of weight but are not healthy; they end up in the hospital attached to a heart monitor with unstable vital signs,’ Golden said.
Negative comments about weight can also be detrimental to a teen’s health, Golden said. ‘Mothers who talk about their own bodies and weights can inadvertently encourage their kids to have body dissatisfaction, which we see in half of teen girls and a quarter of boys,’ Golden said. Such dissatisfaction is associated with lower levels of physical activity and with use of vomiting, laxatives and diuretics to control weight.
The guidelines are ultimately designed to support both healthy weight and healthy body image in teens. And they apply to all families with teenagers, not just those perceived as having weight problems, Golden said.
Previously: Families can help their teens recover from anorexia, new study shows, Study shows poor sleep habits as a teenager can “stack the deck against you for obesity later in life” and Teens need healthy brain food, says Stanford expert
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