Is your kid obese? Does that stress your child and you? Well, there’s help at hand. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published new guidelines on how to tackle rising rates of obesity and eating disorders in teenagers.
The AAP’s clinical report, which will be published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics, looks at five different ways parents can help teens maintain a healthy weight. These have been developed in response to growing concerns that teens are currently trying to lose weight by unhealthy methods. These methods can lead to medical consequences such as an unstable heart rate, seen in people with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa.
It is also important to promote healthy weight loss in teens as although obesity rates in children in the US have started to decline, obesity rates in teenagers have not followed suit.
The new scientific recommendations include five evidence-based strategies that both medical professionals and parents can use to help teenagers avoid eating disorders and manage weight healthily. They focus on promoting a healthy and balanced lifestyle rather than placing attention on weight loss, making them applicable to all teens and not just those who need to lose weight.
Three behaviours to avoid
The guidelines advise that parents and doctors should not encourage dieting, with Neville Golden, MD, professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine and lead author of the report, explaining that scientific evidence is mounting to show that dieting is bad for teens and counterproductive for weight loss. Evidence has shown that those who diet in ninth grade, for example, are three times more likely than their peers to be overweight in 12th grade.
Growing teens should also avoid calorie-counting in order to make sure they have the energy they need during their adolescent years.
Parents should also not tease teens about their weight, and should avoid “weight talk,” which includes commenting on both their own weight or their child’s weight. Golden added that mothers who talk about their own weight and bodies negatively can inadvertently encourage their children to also be dissatisfied with their bodies, with body dissatisfaction also associated with lower levels of physical activity and with unhealthy methods of weight loss.
Two healthy habits for parents to focus on
The last two recommendations focus on promoting behaviours that encourage healthy weight management, with the scientists advising parents to help their children develop a healthy body image by encouraging them to eat a balanced diet and to exercise for fitness, not weight loss.
They also suggest that families eat regular meals together; although it doesn’t have to be every night, eating together as a family as often as possible is a good way for parents to set a good example of healthy food behaviours.