When parents talk to their teens about losing weight or being thin, the kids are more likely to use unhealthy methods of weight loss to control their weight, new research by the University of Minnesota suggests.

The finding, published in JAMA Pediatrics, also revealed that family conversations about healthy eating that did not include the topic of weight loss were associated with fewer unhealthy weight loss methods, like skipping meals and using laxatives – among overweight teenagers.

Jerica M. Berge, Ph.D., M.P.H., L.M.F.T., of the University of Minnesota Medical School, and the other authors write:

“Because adolescence is a time when more youths engage in disordered eating behaviors, it is important for parents to understand what types of conversations may be helpful or harmful in regard to disordered eating behaviors and how to have these conversations with their adolescents.”

The research included data from two population-based studies and consisted of surveys completed by teenagers and parents. The investigation included 2,348 teenagers with an average age of 14.4 years and 3,528 parents.

Among overweight teens whose moms took part in healthy eating conversations, compared with mothers who did not take part in healthy eating discussions, there was a lower incidence of dieting and unhealthy weight-control behaviors.

Dieting and unhealthy weight-control behaviors were more common among normal weight and overweight kids of parents whose conversations focused on weight.

For instance, 64% of overweight adolescents whose mothers talked about weight and weight loss had used dangerous weight-control behaviors, while only 41% used unhealthy methods when family conversations were just about healthy eating, and 53% when mothers did not talk about weight or food at all.

Thirty-nine percent of normal weight kids whose mothers discussed weight had engaged in unhealthy behaviors, compared to 30% of those with mothers who talked about being healthy.

Equally, the researchers found that teens whose fathers discussed weight in conversations were more likely to take part in dieting and unhealthy weight-control behaviors than teens whose fathers did not.

The authors concluded:

“Finally, for parents who may wonder whether talking with their adolescent child about eating habits and weight is useful or detrimental, results from this study indicate that they may want to focus on discussing and promoting healthful eating behaviors rather than discussing weight and size, regardless of whether their child is nonoverweight or overweight.”

According to the CDC, 28% of teens are overweight in the USA. In a previous study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, experts suggested that creating a healthful home environment, modeling healthy behaviors, and giving encouragement and support to teens can be more effective than discussing weight-related topics with them.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald