Liz Weber is a Registered Dietitian at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. Today’s “On the Menu” segment features tips on how to appropriately address weight with teens.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released new guidelines for talking to teens about weight and their key message was don’t. Instead, the Academy emphasizes the importance of focusing on a healthy lifestyle rather than talking directly about weight. And here’s the reason why. Thirty four percent of teens are categorized as overweight or obese, however eating disorders are the third most common chronic condition in adolescents. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly more important for parents to learn how to correctly address the health of their teens without potentially inducing an eating disorder. So let’s talk about strategies for promoting these healthy lifestyle behaviors.

1. Dieting. Discourage dieting, skipping meals, or use of diet pills. Dieting or caloric restriction has been shown to be a risk factor for both obesity and eating disorders. Similarly, a recent study revealed that dieting behaviors among adolescents were associated with a two-fold increased risk of becoming overweight and a 1.5-fold increased risk of developing eating disorders. Rather, focusing on healthy eating and physical activity behaviors that will continue long term, such as planting their own fruits or vegetables at home or encouraging participation in school clubs or sports.

2. Family meals. Making family meals a priority at home not only allows time for parents to interact with their adolescent, but they have also been associated with improved dietary quality, specifically increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains, fiber and calcium-rich foods. This time also provides an opportunity for parents to model healthy eating behaviors for their teens or to address any eating-related issues early.

3. Healthy body image. Close to half of teenage girls and one-quarter of teenage boys are dissatisfied with their bodies. Having an unhealthy body image has been shown to also be a risk factor for eating disorders and disordered eating. Emphasizing that a healthy body comes in different shapes and sizes can help promote a positive body image. Teens with a healthier body image were more likely to have parents that encouraged healthy eating and exercising for energy, instead of dieting.

4. Weight talk. Try to avoid unhealthy comments about your weight as a parent, weights of other individuals or family members, and last, but not least, the weight of your teen. Even if well intended, these comments can quickly be taken the wrong way. These comments, even if they are not intended for your teen send a message that the most important thing about that person is their weight. Several studies have shown that parental weight talk with an emphasis on dieting has been linked to overweight and eating disorders. Instead of focusing on numbers on the scale and dieting, don’t be afraid to talk openly about the importance of eating a variety of foods and the benefits of exercise. Make trying a new food or exercise a part of your regular trips to the grocery store or gym, instead of talking always about limiting food intake.

With overweight and obesity rates on the rise among teens and with such an appearance-focused society, it is imperative for parents to address these issues appropriately and model the right lifestyle behaviors. Still feel like addressing these weight issues is over your head as a parent? Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a registered dietitian or eating disorder specialist.