Body Image and Your Kids:
Your body image plays a role in theirs
"On a diet, you can't eat." This is what one five year-old
girl had to say in a study on girls' ideas about dieting. This
and other research has shown that daughters are more likely to
have ideas about dieting when their mothers diet. Children pick
up on comments about dieting concepts that may seem harmless,
such as limiting high-fat foods or eating less. Yet, as girls
enter their teen years, having ideas about dieting can lead to
problems. Many things can spark weight concerns for girls and
impact their eating habits in potentially unhealthy ways:
- having mothers concerned about their own weight
- having mothers who are overly concerned about their
daughters' weight and looks
- natural weight gain and other body changes during
- peer pressure to look a certain way
- struggles with self-esteem
- media images showing the ideal female body as thin
Many teenage girls of average weight think they are
overweight and are not satisfied with their bodies. Having
extreme weight concerns-and acting on those concerns-can harm
girls' social, physical and emotional growth. Actions such as
skipping meals or taking diet pills can lead to poor nutrition
and difficulty learning. For some, extreme efforts to lose
weight can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
For others, the pressure to be thin can actually lead to binge
eating disorder: overeating that is followed by extreme guilt.
What's more, girls are more likely to further risk their health
by trying to lose weight in unhealthy ways, such as smoking.
While not as common, boys are also at risk of developing
unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders. Body image becomes
an important issue for teenage boys as they struggle with body
changes and pay more attention to media images of the "ideal"
What you can do
Your children pay attention to what you say and do-even if it
doesn't seem like it sometimes. If you are always complaining
about your weight or feel pressure to change your body shape,
your children may learn that these are important concerns. If
you are attracted to new "miracle" diets, they may learn that
restrictive dieting is better than making healthy lifestyle
choices. If you tell your daughter that she would be prettier if
she lost weight, she will learn that the goals of weight loss
are to be attractive and accepted by others.
Parents are role models and should try to follow the healthy
eating and physical activity patterns that you would like your
children to follow-for your health and theirs. Extreme weight
concerns and eating disorders, as well as obesity, are hard to
treat. Yet, you can play an important role in preventing these
problems for your children.
Follow these steps to help your child develop a
positive body image and relate to food in a healthy way:
- Make sure your child understands that weight gain is
a normal part of development, especially during puberty.
- Avoid negative statements about food, weight, and
body size and shape.
- Allow your child to make decisions about food, while
making sure that plenty of healthy and nutritious meals and snacks are
- Compliment your child on her or his efforts, talents,
accomplishments, and personal values.
- Restrict television viewing, and watch television
with your child and discuss the media images you see.
- Encourage your school to enact policies against
size and sexual
discrimination, harassment, teasing, and name-calling; support the elimination
of public weigh-ins and fat measurements.
- Keep the communication lines with your child
Last Editorial Review: 7/12/2005