Recent studies have highlighted that obesity rates in adolescents and children have been steadily increasing at rates between one to five percent since 2014. In comparison, hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under the age of 12 increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006. Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescents and young women with anorexia are 12 times more likely to die than other women the same age. While all of these statistics can be disconcerting, they show us that we need to focus on encouraging healthy lifestyles instead of focusing on an ideal weight or image.
The way we talk about weight and body image can have a major impact on the way children and adolescents see themselves. As children grow into teenagers their weight may fluctuate naturally and shouldn’t be a cause for worry by itself. Discussing weight loss can be a trigger for unhealthy thoughts about eating, weight and body image. Instead, be a role model for what healthy, nutritious and well-rounded eating looks like and never promote dieting. Not only does dieting not work long term, but it can lead to the fear of eating.
As parents, teachers and healthcare professionals, you can help prevent an eating disorder from developing by emphasizing overall wellness instead of appearances. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages dieting and weight talk with adolescents and found that teens whose parents focus on healthy eating and physical activity instead are less likely to have an eating disorder or engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors. Try to incorporate a variety of nutritious food in your diet and encourage moderation rather than forbidding certain foods. Make an effort to eat meals together as a family and incorporate physical activity regularly.
If you aren’t sure where to start, Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Education Services has an exceptional team of registered dieticians dedicated to educating families on nutrition.
Laura Watson is a registered dietitian with Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Education Services in Greensboro. Laura received a Bachelor of Science in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2007 and earned a Master of Science in nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2009.