New Guidelines Aim To Prevent Eating Disorders and Obesity At The Same Time

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This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines for “Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents” that suggest we are talking about eating disorders all wrong.

According to the recommendations published in the September issue of Pediatrics, family and medical professionals should pay more attention to behaviors – like eating well and exercising – instead of criticizing weight when talking to younger patients.

To create the new guidelines, the AAP reviewed the existing literature on adolescent obesity and eating disorders. The researchers used these past studies to identify five key behaviors associated with both conditions:

  • Dieting – Caloric restriction with the goal of weight loss
  • Weight Talk – Comments made by family members about their own weight or comments made to the child by parents to encourage weight loss
  • Social Pressure – Teasing from peers about one’s weight
  • Family Eating – Those who don’t eat regular meals with their family were more at risk of both eating disorders and weight gain
  • Body Image – Cultivating a positive body image is shown to help protect against both conditions

A running theme through many of those key behaviors is family, so it is not surprising that the AAP recommends using a family-based approach to prevent and treat disordered eating.

The report from the AAP also helps highlight a misunderstanding many have about disordered eating. Eating disorders and obesity are often considered separate issues, but the cause of both of these health issues is rooted in many of the same psychological fears and behaviors.

For example, those who are overweight frequently participate in the same dieting behaviors of those with eating disorders, however, these can actually backfire. The AAP also notes that dieting is linked with weight gain and binge eating.

The way medical professionals approach concerns about disordered eating, weight gain, or potential eating disorders can be critical to proper intervention and leading someone to enter treatment. In the past, doctors were frequently outright critical about weight issues. However, the AAP says their “focus should be on healthy living and healthy habits rather than on weight.”

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