Teenagers who think their mothers put a premium on thinness may be more likely to worry about their weight and diet frequently, suggest new findings from the Growing Up Today Study, published in the December Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine.
Investigators at Children's Hospital Boston and Brigham and Women's Hospital surveyed more than 9,000 U.S. adolescents and their mothers. Overall, 33 percent of girls, 8 percent of boys, and about half the mothers reported frequently thinking about wanting to be thinner. But girls who thought—correctly or not—that their mothers wanted them to be thin were two to three times more likely to worry about their weight. A similar trend was found among boys. Among both sexes, teens, who accurately perceived that their weight was important to their mother, were about twice as likely to diet frequently (at least twice a week) than those who believed, correctly, that their weight wasn't important to their mothers. In girls, this relationship held true even if they weren't overweight.
"While there's definitely reason for parental concern about a child's weight, putting too much value on thinness can promote unhealthy behaviors," says study author Alison Field, ScD, of Children's Division of Adolescent Medicine. She cautions parents to avoid commenting too much about their own weight or other people's, since teens can internalize negative messages, and instead, promote physical activity and sound nutrition.