It seems like adults are always ready to dole out some advice to kids and teens. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing — how else would wisdom from grandma and grandpa make its way to the next generation?
But there is one thorny (or, bear with me, “weighty”) topic that should pretty much remain off-limits: someone’s weight or size.
According to a new study published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders, parents who had conversations about body size or weight also had children who were more likely to grow up and have eating disorders or unhealthy eating habits.
The study surveyed more than 500 women between the ages of 20 to 25 and asked if they remembered their parents making comments about their weight. Researchers found that no matter whether the child was overweight or not, those who had parents remark about their size ended up believing that they needed to lose weight, even if they were at a perfectly normal weight.
But even the most well-intentioned parents could end up making things worse. Comments about weight don’t need to necessarily negative, but the focus on a person’s weight or body size ultimately placed a level of significance and value that children internalized and kept for life.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Brian Wansink, told the New York Times that parents’ critical comments had a “scarring influence.”
“We asked the women to recall how frequently parents commented, but the telling thing was that if they recalled it happening at all, it had as bad an influence as if it happened all the time,” Wansink told the Times. “A few comments were the same as commenting all the time. It seems to make a profound impression.”