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Don’t Call Your Kids Fat

WUHAN, CHINA - JULY 10: (CHINA OUT) Children stand at attention at a base of the Aimin Slimming Centre on July 10, 2007 in Wuhan of Hubei Province, China. Doctors in the center have combined acupuncture, exercise and diet to help about 110 obese teenagers from 9 to 20 years old lose weight during one month. An official from the Ministry of Health revealed that more than 200 million Chinese people are overweight. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

Fat kids put parents in a tricky position: We know those extra pounds could wreak havoc with their health, not to mention their self-esteem. But how do you convince them to lose weight?

According to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, the right way is to hone in on healthy eating habits (“that Hoho is bad for your health, honey”). The wrong way? Focusing on weight (“You could stand to lose a few pounds there, darling”). In fact, telling kids to lose weight can backfire, causing kids to gain more weight.

For the study, researchers surveyed over 2,300 adolescents and 3,500 parents. Of them, 15 percent of moms and 14 percent of dads with an overweight child said they talked about health. Meanwhile, 60 percent of moms and 59 percent of dads with overweight kids talked about weight loss—which is the wrong way to break the ice, since it can propel kids into problem dieting and other unhealthy eating behaviors such as anorexia, binge eating and bulimia.

“A lot of parents are aware of the obesity problem in the U.S—it's everywhere you turn—but they wonder how to talk about it with their children,” said study author Dr. Jerica Berge of the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis to U.S. News and World Report. Her advice: “Tell kids to eat more fruits and vegetables because eating them will make them healthy and strong. Don't connect these conversations to weight and size."

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