Study: Encouraging Teens To Diet Screws Up Their Attitudes Toward Food

The results of a multidecade study published in the journal Pediatrics show teens whose parents encouraged them to lose weight have higher instances of obesity and eating disorders later, compared to those whose parents didn't.


Reuters reports the researchers analyzed the results of food-attitude surveys given to 556 teenagers, and compared them to online surveys the same individuals completed 15 years later.

"When adolescents were encouraged to diet by their parents, they were more likely to be overweight, engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors, binge eat and diet, and to have lower body satisfaction as adults," lead author Jerica Berge of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health told Reuters.

As adults, participants who were told to diet as teens were 25 percent more likely to be overweight and 37 percent more likely to be obese, and were 72 percent more likely to report binge eating.

Despite the negative effects of dieting pressure, adults who felt such pressure are still more likely to encourage their own kids to lose weight.


"As parents, people who were pushed to diet during their teen years were also roughly 50 percent more likely to push their own kids to diet," Reuters reports.

These results indicate a cycle in which parents perpetuate attitudes about food and weight, even if those attitudes have negative outcomes. Of course, parents play a role in the health of their children, and researchers don't suggest adults avoid discussing eating habits with teens. But it's a wake-up call for adults to be cautious of how that message is delivered. "In our weight-focused society, it's very easy to get caught up in a high focus on weight and eating," Katherine Bauer, a nutrition specialist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and co-author of a related editorial, told Reuters. "Ultimately though, once we're aware of our beliefs and behaviors, with the right resources we can create more supportive environments that focus on health and wellbeing, rather than the number on the scale."