Talking to Teens About Weight Loss: Helpful or Harmful?

With over a third of adolescents categorized as obese or overweight in the US, many doctors and parents alike wonder how to best support teens in healthy weight management. A new study found that talking to overweight teens about weight and size may increase their risk of eating disorders and unhealthy weight loss behaviors. The study suggests that conversations surrounding healthy eating are protective against eating disorders, which may result in more healthy weight loss.

Previous research has shown that family weight teasing is linked to unhealthy eating disorders like dieting, fasting, and laxative use, but the association has not been consistent across all studies.

Study on Parents Conversations with Teens

Researchers from the University of Minnesota studied whether family conversations about eating affected the likelihood that teens practiced behaviors like extreme unhealthy weight control, dieting, and binge eating. They analyzed data from two population-based studies that included 2,793 adolescents and 3, 709 parents. The average teen was 14.4 years old, and the average parent was 42.3 years old.

Parents of teens who were overweight or obese were nearly twice as likely to discuss weight or the need to lose weight with their children. Sixty percent of mothers and 59% of fathers said they had conversations about weight or the need to lose weight with their overweight or obese teen, while just 32-33% of parents of normal weight teens had weight conversations. Those parents were also more likely to discuss healthy eating with their kids; 28% of mothers and 23% of fathers of non-overweight kids had healthful eating discussions, compared to 15% of mothers and 14% of fathers of kids who were obese or overweight.

All teens, regardless of weight, were significantly less likely to engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors and dieting when their parents had conservations about healthful eating.

Implications for Doctors and Parents

Although the researchers found a relationship between eating disorders and weight-related conversations, the researchers said that still doesn't establish causality; in other words, conversations about weight loss do not necessarily cause unhealthy behaviors. It's possible that in some cases, teens who have these disorders may spark weight-related conversations with their parents.

The researchers recommended that health-care professionals educate parents about how weight conversations may affect the development of eating disorders, and that "conversations about healthful eating may be helpful to their adolescents in regard to dieting and disordered eating behaviors."

Doctors of chiropractic can help you have healthy conversations about nutrition and exercise with your teen, in addition to relieving musculoskeletal conditions like back pain.


Berge JM, et al. Parent conversations about healthful eating and weight: associations with adolescent disorder eating behaviors. JAMA 2013; 1-7. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.78.

Childhood Obesity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed June 25, 2013.

Petrochko C. Parental focus on weight loss may harm teens. Medpage Today. June 24, 2013. Accessed June 25, 2013.