New AAP Guidance on Avoiding Teen Obesity, Eating Disorders
Written by Editor   
Saturday, October 29, 2016 12:00 AM

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new evidence-based guidance for healthcare providers on how to help teenagers avoid obesity and eating disorders. The report focuses on parental involvement in promoting healthy eating and exercise, rather than unhealthy weight control efforts.

During the last 3 decades, teenage obesity has quadrupled. About 35% of teenagers may currently be overweight or obese, with Hispanic, American Indian, and African-American youth disproportionately affected, according to the authors. Although recent data suggest these rates may be stabilizing, they remain concerning, as obesity is associated with increased risk for later health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.

At the same time, eating disorders represent the third most common chronic problem in teenagers, after obesity and asthma.

The AAP report describes behaviors associated with both obesity and eating disorders in teenagers, including:

  • Dieting: A risk factor for both obesity and eating disorders.

  • Family Meals: Linked to improved diet quality, family meals provide an opportunity for parents to model healthy eating behavior.

  • Weight Talk: Comments by family members about their own weight or their child's weight have been linked to eating disorders; focusing on healthy eating rather than weight may improve unhealthy eating behaviors.

  • Weight Teasing: Linked to unhealthy weight control behaviors and binge eating.

  • Healthy Body Image: Body image dissatisfaction is a risk factor for eating disorders, whereas a positive body image has been linked to fewer weight control behaviors.

A sustainable approach to the prevention of obesity and eating disorders may include focusing less on weight and more on healthy lifestyle modification within the family, according to the report.

Healthcare providers can help teenagers by including constructive advice about weight management during clinic visits, discouraging unhealthy eating behaviors like skipping meals, and supporting healthy living. They can promote a positive body image by avoiding weight-based language. Providers should also enquire about mistreatment and bullying. They can involve the family by encouraging family meals and advising families to focus on healthy eating and exercise.