In my latest 1:2:1 podcast, I spoke with Stanford pediatrician Neville Golden, MD, about new guidelines to help pediatricians and parents talk with adolescents about weight. It has become clear, Golden says, that focusing on diet and weight reduction is detrimental for teens. Weight talk and diet promotion are not only counterproductive, they also send kids the wrong message about creating a healthy lifestyle: “Scientific evidence increasingly shows that for teenagers, dieting is bad news.”
The guidelines, of which Golden is a senior author, were developed in response to a growing concern about teens’ use of unhealthy methods to lose weight. Eating disorders are the third most common chronic condition in adolescents after obesity and asthma, but, as Golden emphasized to me, eating disorders are completely treatable.
The guidelines identify behaviors to avoid with teens. Don’t encourage diets, tease teens about their weight or talk negatively about weight. “Mothers who talk about their own bodies and weight issues can inadvertently encourage their kids to have body dissatisfaction,” he said. The dissatisfaction, Golden told my colleague, Erin Digitale, is associated with lower levels of physical activity and with the use of vomiting, laxatives and diuretics to control weight.
Regular family meals are sort of insulators against negative influences, Golden said, and an opportunity for parents to model healthy eating. “It doesn’t have to be every night. Just making it happen on a regular basis is important.”
The new advice is especially timely. Although obesity rates are dropping for children, the same drop is not being seen in teens. The new recommendations include five evidence-based strategies that pediatricians and parents can use to help teenagers avoid both obesity and eating disorders, and they can be applied to all teens, not just those with weight problems.