Parent Comments on Child’s Weight Can Linger into Adulthood

(Photo: A Quick Bite)

(Photo: A Quick Bite)

It is not unusual for parents to make comments about their daughters’ eating habits, weight, or growth — and moms and dads might think what they are saying is helpful, but often they are doing much more harm than they realize.

In a new study published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders this month, it was found that women who have parents who talk to them about their weight are likelier to sustain higher BMIs than women whose parents do not. These women also feel worse about their bodies than women who have parents who do not discuss their child’s size.

Melissa Stanger of the Revelist writes that studies have shown the Body Mass Index is not an accurate measure of health. For example, a high BMI could be due to greater muscle mass.

The report added that even women who were at a healthy weight could have body image problems if their parents talked about their body weight. It appears that making comments about a child’s eating habits, wardrobe, or looks can affect their confidence and self-assurance.

A 2012 study of young people at a weight-loss camp found that 37% of their parents bullied them about their weight, according to the New York Times.

But a new study involving 501 women from 20 to 35 found that comments about a child’s size can continue to shape a young person’s body image into adulthood.

Scientists from Cornell Food and Brand Lab explored how parent’s comments about their child’s weight affected their daughters’ adult BMI and “satisfaction with her weight.”

Women with healthy BMIs were almost a third less apt to remember parents discussing their weight or telling them they were eating too much compared to “women whose BMI indicated they were overweight,” reports Jordyn Taylor of Science.Mic.

Katie Dalebout, author of Let it Out: A Journey Through Journaling, says the study rings true to her. Dalebout dealt with orthorexia (obsession with healthy food) in her 20s. She shared that her family discussed her body when she was young and developing.

“It is important to focus less on our bodies as a model of what ‘healthy’ is,” Eating Disorder Resource Center administrative director and therapist Shelly Allen said in an email. “When we focus only on our physical appearance, we objectify a person. This never feels good — which supports this new research.”

Parents have every right to help their children stay healthy, but size-shaming comments can do damage to a child now and later in his or her future.

The research was managed by Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, who said:

“Commenting on a woman’s weight is never a good idea, even when they are young girls,” Wansink told ScienceDaily. “If you’re worried about your child’s weight, avoid criticizing them or restricting food. Instead, nudge healthy choices and behaviors by giving them freedom to choose for themselves and by making the healthier choices more appealing and convenient.”

A study completed in 2013 found that parents who talked with their kids about healthy eating habits set kids up to be less likely to diet or develop unhealthy weight-control activities.

When parents model healthy eating, their young ones will follow their lead. Children are more apt to do what a parent does and less inclined to do what parents say they must do when it comes to eating choices, says Rachel Grumman Bender of Yahoo!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and statistics published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) have shown that the US is a nation where 40% of women and 35% of men are obese. There is a clear obesity epidemic in the US, reports Carlene Wild for LifeZette.