A new set of guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) emphasizes an integrated approach to preventing both obesity and eating disorders among adolescents and teenagers.
The AAP’s recommendations, which were published Aug. 21 on the website of the journal Pediatrics, advise parents and health officials to promote healthy behaviors and to resist the urge to focus on weight.
Two Persistent Problems
The advice comes at an important time, as the AAP notes that obesity and eating disorders are unfortunately common among American adolescents, and young people who suffer from either are at risk for a range of immediate and long-term dangers:
- According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 34.5 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 in the United States are either overweight or obese.
- Having a high body mass index (BMI) during adolescence significantly increases a person’s likelihood of suffering from a host of health problems during adulthood, including diabetes, coronary heart disease, obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension, and depression.
- Eating disorders are the third most common chronic condition among adolescents and teenagers in the United States.
- Negative health effects associated with adolescent eating disorders include hypotension, bradycardia (abnormally slow heart rate), electrolyte disturbances, amenorrhea, osteoporosis, depression, self-harm, and suicide.
- Anorexia, which is one of the more common forms of eating disorder, has the highest death rate of any mental illness.
It is rare but not uncommon for an adolescent to suffer from both obesity and an eating disorder. However, the AAP has noted that poor guidance – or well-intentioned advice that is misinterpreted by young people – can push vulnerable teens into disordered eating habits in a self-defeating attempt to prevent unhealthy weight gain.
Focus on Positive Behaviors
Though the AAP’s recently released recommendations are designed to help young people achieve and maintain a healthy weight, the organization strongly advises parents and other caregivers not to focus on numbers on a scale. Doing so, they say, can prompt a young person to take dangerous short-cuts.
“Scientific evidence increasingly shows that for teenagers, dieting is bad news,” Neville Golden, MD, one of the lead authors of the new guidelines, said in an Aug. 21 article on the Stanford University Medicine website. “An adolescent may try unhealthy weight-loss methods like fasting or diet pills and end up in a vicious circle of more weight gain.”
Emphasizing the potential danger, three of the five recommendations put forth by the AAP urge parents to avoid putting their child’s weight in the spotlight, while the final two address the benefits of a supportive lifestyle and healthy behaviors:
- Do not encourage children or adolescents to diet.
- Avoid discussing weight (either their own or their child’s).
- Never tease children or adolescents about their weight.
- Eat meals together as a family on a regular basis.
- Encourage children and adolescents to follow a balanced diet and exercise for fitness, not weight loss.
Decreasing a young person’s risk of obesity or an eating disorder can pay dividends for decades, and can hopefully protect future generations for the health risks that are impacting so many of today’s adolescents and teenagers.
About Timberline Knolls
Timberline Knolls is a nationally respected private residential treatment center for adolescent girls and adult women who have been struggling with eating disorders, addiction, and certain co-occurring mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Housed on 43 tranquil acres in Lemont, Illinois, Timberline Knolls provides clinically superior services in a nurturing and supportive atmosphere. The program places great emphasis on ensuring that all girls and women receive the personalized services that will identify, address, and empower them to overcome all of the obstacles that have been preventing them from living healthier and more productive lives.
Treatment at Timberline Knolls is provided in an integrated and holistic manner, with patients working in active collaboration with the members of their treatment team to set goals, evaluate progress, and ensure that healing occurs on a physical, psychological, and spiritual level. Timberline Knolls is dedicated to being a recognized center of excellence in pragmatic, integrated services for girls and women, and for being a leader in the continued development and provision of evidence-based, outcome-supported clinical and educational services.