Research indicates teenagers are battling with excess weight at an increased rate. But while obesity in adolescence is on the upswing, so is the prevalence of dieting and disordered eating. A recent study published in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine revealed that out of 6,728 boys and girls ages 11-16, almost half of the girls and 1 out of 5 boys surveyed had dieted at some point. Furthermore, 13 percent of the girls and 7 percent of the boys reported disordered eating behaviors.
According to the researchers, overweight teens are among those individuals most at risk for disordered eating behaviors. To control their weight, many teens diet or binge and purge. These practices during adolescence can impair nutritional status, which can prevent teens from growing to their full potential in height, weight and bone mass. As a parent, what can you do to help your child? Here are some tips to help your kids have healthier attitudes and practices related to food, exercise and body weight:
1. Offer options. Have an abundance of healthy foods on hand for your kids to choose. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, raisins and unsalted nuts, whole grain breads and crackers, lean meats and canned fish, and low-fat dairy foods. If your kids insist on eating junk food, buy small portions of their favorites and save them for special occasions.
2. Stay tuned in. Offer your kids healthy foods, but let them decide what and how much to eat. Also, allow them to choose physical activities and sports that appeal to them. Respecting and supporting your kids' decisions can boost their confidence and reinforce healthy behaviors.
3. Let hunger be their cue. Teach your kids to eat when they're hungry instead of when they're bored or stressed. If they find they're often eating for emotional reasons, help them replace their mindless eating with more productive activities that don't involve food.
4. Accentuate the positive. Resist the urge to berate yourself or your children because of weight. Teach your kids that it's not healthy or realistic to try to conform to society's ideals of the "perfect body". Encourage them to look beyond weight and physical appearance and to focus instead on what's on the inside.
5. Practice what you preach. Set an example by eating well and living actively. If your kids see the benefits you derive from your healthy lifestyle--looking and feeling better, and having more energy--chances are they'll be more likely to model your healthy behaviors.
6. Consult your pediatrician if you suspect an eating disorder. Symptoms of eating disorders include:
- Coming to family meals but not eating
- Weighing one or several times per day
- Hair loss
- Excessive fatigue and/or feeling cold when no one else does