American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines: What Parents Need to Know

Just this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a new set of guidelines developed in response to growing concern about teenagers’ use of unhealthy weight loss methods.

In this detailed report, pediatricians and parents are identified as key players in preventing obesity and eating disorders in teens. Included are 5 evidence-based strategies centered around avoiding focusing teens’ attention on weight and dieting, and instead, on encouraging a healthy, balanced lifestyle. These new guidelines, summarized below, apply to all teens, regardless of weight status.

  1. Avoid encouraging dieting behaviors. This means avoid dieting yourself and of course, discouraging dieting habits in your children. Dieting behavior in adolescence has been shown time and again to lead to eating disorders & eventual weight gain. Not sure what “dieting behavior” is? Examples are:
    • Calorie counting
    • Skipping meals
    • Taking diet pills/laxatives
    • Celebrating restraint when it comes to eating
    • Assigning a moral value to foods through arbitrary labels like “good,” “bad,” or “clean”
    • Using exercise as a way to compensate for eating/weight-loss
    • Jumping on the latest fad diet bandwagon (yes, even Weight Watchers & Whole30)
  2. Avoid “weight talk.” This includes commenting on both a child’s weight and on your own weight. Removing the focus on weight and size from conversation, especially at home, can be challenging, but it’s important to evaluate your own relationship with food, exercise, and your body as well as the importance you place on weight in your household. Be honest with yourself. What do you need to work on? Children learn through observation. If parents place value on appearance and weight, whether directly or perhaps in more subtle ways, it’s likely that their children will too. Even well-intended comments can be harmful.
  3. Avoid teasing children about their weight. Bullying doesn’t just happen in schools. Believe it or not, teasing & fat-shaming happens more at home than anywhere else. For both males and females, hurtful weight-related comments from family members and significant others are associated with use of unhealthy weight-control behaviors and binge eating. An attempt at humor may very well plant a not-so-healthy seed in your child’s brain or lead them to over-value weight and appearance.
  4. Increase the frequency of family meals. Family meals are protective against weight-related issues. For some, this is not news, but as time goes on, we’re learning more and more about the role that family meals play in the development of healthy behaviors. Researchers believe that the protective nature of eating meals as a family can be explained by an increase in opportunities for parents to interact with children, to model healthy eating behaviors, and to intervene early when unhealthy habits start to form. And compared to a typical teenager’s diet, family meals also tend to be higher in dietary quality & variety. It’s recommended that families eat together all or most days of the week.
  5. Encourage eating a balanced diet and exercise for fitness, not weight loss. Adolescents are less likely to experience weight-related concerns and more likely to develop positive body image if surrounded by those, both parents and peers, who emphasize healthful eating and exercising to be fit, rather than as a means to lose weight. It’s important to encourage the implementation of healthy, balanced eating and physical activity behaviors that can be maintained on an ongoing basis and that are focused on overall health, not on weight and appearance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ release of these guidelines is an important step toward the prevention of eating disorders & weight-related issues, the seeds of which are planted in adolescence.

To read the original report & supporting evidence, click here.

By Jessica L. Betts, MS, RD, LD
REbeL Program Director