Study: There’s a right way to talk to kids about obesity

A new study shows the best way to talk to adolescents about obesity.One of the primary jobs of people in medical assistant careers is to help physicians with patient examinations.1 As a result, it’s important that, just like doctors and nurses, they are aware of any widespread health issues that the American population is facing. Lately, that has meant one thing in particular: Obesity.

The American Medical Association recently declared obesity to be a disease, which could have a bearing on treatment going forward.2 While it is not immediately clear whether this will have an effect on health insurance or allow physicians and other health care workers to encourage patients to take medication to combat symptoms of the disease, such as high blood pressure, it does have people thinking about how obesity can be prevented in the first place.3

A study from researchers at the University of Minnesota looked into the question of whether talking to children and adolescents about their weight and eating habits would be helpful or harmful.4 Childhood obesity in adolescents has more than tripled over the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than one-third of all children and adolescents are now overweight or obese.5

To formulate their results, the researchers looked at two surveys: one that evaluated the eating behaviors of adolescents and another that looked at aspects of the subjects’ family environments that might contribute to their eating behaviors.6

The participants were diverse, both socioeconomically and racially/ethnically.7 Nearly 3,000 adolescents and 4,000 parents participated in the surveys.8 The results? When parents talked to their kids about their weights, those adolescents were more likely to diet, use unhealthy weight-control behaviors or engage in binge eating.9

Conversely, when parents approached the conversation by talking about food instead of weight – focusing on healthy eating behaviors – adolescents were less likely to participate in dieting or disordered eating.10

What does this mean for the health care community? Physicians, nurses and medical assistants should be careful about how they approach conversations related to obesity with their younger patients. Most eating disorders begin in adolescence and talking to teens about their weights can send them in the wrong direction. Instead, health care professionals should frame the conversation around healthful eating because it has been shown to positively impact adolescents’ behavior.11

1 Bureau of Labors Stastics, ‘What Medical Assistants Do,” March 29, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-2
2 McCrimmon, Katie Kerwin, Health Policy Solutions, ‘Obesity a disease, cure elusive,’ June 26, 2013 – http://www.healthpolicysolutions.org/2013/06/26/obesity-a-disease-cure-elusive/
3 McCrimmon, Katie Kerwin, Health Policy Solutions, ‘Obesity a disease, cure elusive,’ June 26, 2013 – http://www.healthpolicysolutions.org/2013/06/26/obesity-a-disease-cure-elusive/
4 Berge, Jerica et al., JAMA Pediatrics, ‘Parent Conversations about Healthful Eating and Weight,’ June 24, 2013 – http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1700514
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘Childhood Obesity Facts,’ Feb. 19, 2013 – http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm
6 Abrams, Lindsay, The Atlantic, ‘Study: When Talking to Kids About Obesity, Focus on Foods, Not Body Shapes,’ June 25, 2013 – http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/06/study-when-talking-to-kids-about-obesity-focus-on-foods-not-body-shapes/277173/
7 Berge, Jerica et al., JAMA Pediatrics, ‘Parent Conversations about Healthful Eating and Weight,’ June 24, 2013 – http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1700514
8 Abrams, Lindsay, The Atlantic, ‘Study: When Talking to Kids About Obesity, Focus on Foods, Not Body Shapes,’ June 25, 2013 – http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/06/study-when-talking-to-kids-about-obesity-focus-on-foods-not-body-shapes/277173/
9 Berge, Jerica et al., JAMA Pediatrics, ‘Parent Conversations about Healthful Eating and Weight,’ June 24, 2013 – http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1700514
10 Berge, Jerica et al., JAMA Pediatrics, ‘Parent Conversations about Healthful Eating and Weight,’ June 24, 2013 – http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1700514
11 Abrams, Lindsay, The Atlantic, ‘Study: When Talking to Kids About Obesity, Focus on Foods, Not Body Shapes,’ June 25, 2013 – http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/06/study-when-talking-to-kids-about-obesity-focus-on-foods-not-body-shapes/277173/

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