Family Weight Talk and Dieting: How Much Do They Matter for Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Behaviors in Adolescent Girls?



      To learn about parent weight talk, parent dieting, and family weight-teasing in the homes of adolescent girls at risk for obesity and weight-related problems. To examine associations between these family variables and girls' weight status, body satisfaction, and disordered eating behaviors.


      Data were collected at baseline from girls participating in a school-based intervention to prevent weight-related problems. Participants included 356 adolescent girls from 12 high schools. The girls' mean age was 15.8 years; 46% were overweight or obese; and more than 75% were racial/ethnic minorities.


      A high percentage of girls reported parent weight talk (i.e., comments about one's own weight and encouragement of daughter to diet), parent dieting, and family weight-teasing. For example, 45% of the girls reported that their mothers encouraged them to diet and 58% reported weight-teasing by family members. Weight-teasing was strongly associated with higher body mass index, body dissatisfaction, unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors, and binge eating with loss of control in the girls. Parent weight talk, particularly by mothers, was associated with many disordered eating behaviors. Mother dieting was associated with girls' unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors. In no instances were family weight talk and dieting variables associated with better outcomes in the girls.


      Parent weight-related comments and dieting behaviors, and family weight-teasing, may contribute to disordered eating behaviors in adolescent girls. Health care providers can help parents provide a supportive home environment by discouraging weight-based comments, which may be intended to be helpful, but can have unintentional harmful consequences.


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