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How to talk to kids about weight

An analysis of the current guidelines on how to talk to kids about weight.

Currently, 18.4% of children are overweight, and the numbers are only increasing. Obesity in children leads to obesity in adults and complications associated with it: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. With the childhood obesity epidemic and the resulting health concerns, caregivers worry about the consequences and how to combat it.

Discussing weight control, diet, and lifestyle with kids is important in preventing or reversing obesity. However, there are increasing fears that such conversations could result in poor self-worth values and eating disorders.

Numerous health advocacy groups have published guidelines for how to talk to kids about weight – these guidelines are frequently consulted by caregivers and healthcare workers.

Researchers from Drexel University created a comprehensive review of these guidelines in order to assess their content, consistency, and scientific backing.

The researchers conducted the analysis with three aims. First, to describe the guideline content for caregivers or health professionals on how to talk to children about overweight or obesity. Second, to assess the consistency and actionability of the advice. Third, to determine the  scientific background used for advice on addressing “weight” versus “overall health”.

They conducted a large-scale Google search due to its popularity and wide use as a resource. They also did a direct website search, for public and government health advocacy group websites, and a grey literature search, for materials outside of traditional publishing or distribution channels. Thirteen guidelines were identified, which were published between 2004 and 2017.

Content analysis of the guidelines consisted of the following topics: attitude modeling, behavior modeling, dietary recommendations, physical activity, body acceptance and self-esteem, conversation advice, contact with health professionals, discussing weight versus overall health, and external factors. The advice given by each guideline was analyzed by looking into whether there were any other conflicting views given from other guidelines. To determine actionability of coverage, the researchers categorized topics as “not covered”, “poor”, or “actionable”. Finally, scientific backing for guideline claims was determined by the sources used.

There is inconsistent advice on how to talk to kids about weight

On average, the guidelines presented for health practitioners to follow contained 1-6 topics, and those written for caregivers covered 4-8. Guidelines for caregivers mostly focused on body acceptance, self-esteem, conversation tips, other influences, and dietary recommendations. Meanwhile, health practitioner guidelines were tailored toward conversation tips, weight versus overall health, and modeling behaviors.

Caregiver guidelines had more actionable advice than those written for health practitioners. For content analysis, three guidelines stated, “speaking about weight loss with a child would increase risk of later disordered eating”, two other guidelines stated that it would not, whiles others promoted discussions about a child’s weight and overall health. Only two of these guidelines provided any scientific backing for claims made on the subject of weight versus overall health.

With the rise of obesity in children, it is imperative that consistent and coherent guidelines are provided to caregivers and health practitioners on how to talk to kids about weight. There are currently many differences between the advice given and topics covered between caregivers and health practitioners.

Further research is required to create a comprehensive list of guidelines on how to talk to kids about weight that provide the most accurate, and scientifically backed evidence, possible.

Written by Melody Sayrany


  1. Lampe, E. W., Abber, S. R., Forman, E. M., & Manasse, S. M. (2020). Guidelines for caregivers and healthcare professionals on speaking to children about overweight and obesity: A systematic review of the gray literature. Translational Behavioral Medicine, 10(5), 1144-1154. doi:10.1093/tbm/ibaa012
  • DrexelNews. (n.d.). Talking to kids about weight: What the internet says and why researchers are wary. Retrieved December 27, 2020, from
  • Image by free stock photos from from Pixabay 

Melody Sayrany MSc
Melody Sayrany MSc
Melody Sayrany is a seasoned science writer with a host of experiences in cancer, neuroscience, aging, and metabolism research. She completed her BSc at The University of California, San Diego, and her MSc in biology, focusing on metabolic diseases during aging, at the University of British Columbia. Melody is passionate about science communication, and she aims to bridge the gap between complex scientific concepts and the broader community through compelling storytelling.


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