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  • Millie Plotkin, MLS
    Millie Plotkin, MLS Link

    Millie Plotkin, MLS

    Millie Plotkin, MLS, is Informationist for Eating Recovery Center, and creator of the Eating Disorders Information Gateway ...

Review by Millie Plotkin

Berge, J., Winkler, M. R., Larson, N., Miller, J., Haynos, A. F., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2018). Intergenerational transmission of parent encouragement to diet from adolescence into adulthood. Pediatrics, 141(4).

This longitudinal study, part of the University of Minnesota’s Project EAT, looks at dieting messages across generations. A group 556 of racially/ethnically diverse public high school students were surveyed in 1998-99 and again in 2015-16 when had children of their own. The surveys asked questions about diet communications in the home, including encouragement to diet, adults complaining about their own weight, and weight-based teasing. Adolescents who were exposed to these message were more likely to use unhealthy weight-control behaviors as well as engage in binge eating. Lower body dissatisfaction and emotional health were also reported by this group. As adults, the participants were also more likely to be overweight or obese than those who were not encouraged to diet during adolescence.

The connection between dieting messages and unhealthy weight-control has been shown in previous Project EAT studies. The new aspect of this article is the examination of how these messages affect participants after they have become parents themselves. The second surveys showed that adolescents who were exposed to dieting communications reported they were more likely to complain about their weight as adults, and encourage dieting in the next generation.

Why is this important?

The diet company Weight Watchers has announced that they plan to start offering a free six-week membership to teenagers as young as 13, starting this summer. Despite evidence that intentional weight-loss in adolescents puts them at risk for disordered eating, the diet industry is targeting this vulnerable group. Parental-permission is required to join this program, so WW is counting on the transgenerational influence of dieting messages in order to gain new customers. It is important for parents and physicians to be aware of both the risks of dieting and weight-loss talk in homes when discussing weight with families.

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