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Over a third of U.S. children are overweight or obese. The parents of these children may wonder whether talking to their adolescent child about their eating habits and weight is useful or detrimental. A recent study by researchers at the University of Minnesota gives parents some guidance.

The researchers drew data from two surveys, one that focused on eating behaviors in adolescents and another which evaluated aspects of their family environment that might contribute to these behaviors. The researchers received responses from 2,793 public school students and from 3,709 parents and caregivers.

The researchers found that mothers and fathers who engaged in weight-related conversations had adolescents who were more likely to diet, use unhealthy weight-control behaviors, and engage in binge eating. Those conversations might focus on their children’s size or suggest that they should eat differently or exercise in order to lose or keep from gaining weight. On the other hand, overweight or obese adolescents whose mothers engaged in conversations that were focused only on healthful eating behaviors were less likely to diet and use unhealthy weight-control behaviors. Additionally, the researchers found that when both parents engaged in healthful eating conversations, their overweight or obese adolescent children were also less likely to diet and use unhealthy weight-control behaviors.

The researcher concluded: “Finally, for parents who may wonder whether talking with their adolescent child about eating habits and weight is useful or detrimental, results from this study indicate that they may want to focus on discussing and promoting healthful eating behaviors rather than discussing weight and size, regardless of whether their child is nonoverweight or overweight.”

The full study, “Parent Conversations About Healthful Eating and Weight,” is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.