Teenagers who think their mothers put a high value on thinness may be more likely to worry about their weight and frequently diet, new research suggests.
The study, of more than 9,200 U.S. teenagers and their mothers, found that those who believed their weight was important to their mothers were more likely than other teens to be preoccupied by their weight and to diet repeatedly.
The findings highlight the importance of parents’ words and actions in their children’s body image, according to Dr. Alison E. Field of Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.
Although parents are right to want their children to have a healthy weight, it’s also important that they not put too much value on thinness, she told Reuters Health. They can serve as good role models, she said, by making changes in their own diets and taking up exercise for the sake of their overall health -- and not just for trimming their waistlines.
“Parents should also be aware of the comments they make about their own weight and other people’s,” Field said.
Such general attitudes about weight, she noted, can affect their children’s perceptions of their own bodies.
Field and her colleagues report their findings in the December issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
The study included 5,331 girls and 3,881 boys ages 12 to 18 who answered questionnaires about their weight concerns and what they thought about their mothers’ attitudes toward weight. Mothers were asked about their attitudes toward their own weight and their children’s.
Overall, one-third of girls and 8 percent of boys said they “thought frequently about wanting to be thinner.” Girls who thought their mothers wanted them to be thin were two to three times more likely to worry about getting thinner. A similar trend was seen among boys.
Moreover, teenagers who thought their weight was important to their mothers were more likely than their peers to repeatedly diet.
One of the most interesting findings, Field said, was that mothers were more likely than their children to be preoccupied with their own weight. About 54 percent said they thought about wanting to be thinner “a lot or always.” And their teenagers may have been picking up on some of these concerns.
“Parents should try to work on their own issues regarding their weight,” Field said, “not only for themselves, but to make sure they’re sending appropriate messages to their children.”