The following is excerpted from an online article posted by HealthDay.
With U.S. health officials calling childhood obesity a public health crisis, conversations about weight are important. But what you say to your kids can be challenging, and even counterproductive, a new study found.
“Body weight is a sensitive issue, and the way we talk about it matters,” said lead author Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health.
“We really want to identify language that adolescents feel more comfortable using in these conversations, that they don’t feel stigmatized, that they don’t feel blamed or shamed,” Puhl noted.
To do that, researchers reviewed 2021 survey data from more than 2,000 kids ages 10 to 17, along with more than 1,900 parents. Participants were asked about 27 terms and phrases that can be used to describe body weight.
The teens felt the most negative emotions about terms like “overweight,” “fat,” and “extremely obese,” the study found. More than one-third of youths reported feeling embarrassment, shame, and sadness when their parents used these words.
Have a daughter? Tread lightly, the researchers recommended. Girls reported feeling more negative emotions in response to words used about weight than boys did.
“I think a lot of parents have positive intentions when it comes to talking about their child’s weight. They want their child to be healthy. They want their adolescent to feel good about their body size, but sometimes the way that they communicate can come across as being critical or judgmental or using words that really make them feel bad about themselves,” Puhl said.
At least half of the kids surveyed don’t want their parents talking about weight. They’re more willing to talk when they bring it up first or if their parents ask their permission to discuss it, Puhl said.
Even better than talking is modeling healthy behaviors and providing opportunities to eat healthy food at home. Go for walks and make dinner together as a family, she said.
The study findings were published in the December issue of Pediatrics.