By On August 11th, 2006

Poor Body Image Begets Unhealthy Activity in Teens

Many parents have used the strategy of essentially imposing guilt on overweight teens, feeling that they need “a wake up call.” This strategy may backfire causing even more unhealthy habits. A recent study among twenty five hundred teens reported findings that would indicate body image has a direct impact on lifestyle choices. More specifically, negative body image causes less of a desire to make healthy choices. The study found that “poor body image actually leads to self-perpetuating unhealthy weight control behaviors… binge eating, and lessening of physical activity.” Taking a positive approach to weight issues may be a more productive strategy. Discussing the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise for instance could cause a much greater response to parental promptings to improve lifestyle choices. Below is an excerpt of the article:

MINNEAPOLIS, Aug. 10 — Teens with a poor body image tend to behave in ways that are self-perpetuating, researchers here said, and may react better to positive encouragement rather than to criticism.

These youths tend to fall into unhealthy and ineffective weight-loss patterns such as fasting, taking diet pills, and inducing vomiting, said Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., of the University of Minnesota here.

So it’s important for parents, teachers, and clinicians not to make teens feel bad about their bodies in hopes of spurring change, Dr. Neumark-Sztainer and colleagues said in the August issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. That strategy is likely to backfire.

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