Maternal Child Health Program
School of Public Health and Community Medicine 
University of Washington

This web site was partially supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau through grant number 6T76-MC00011


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Adolescent Nutrition and Eating Disorders
N.W.Regional Web Symposium

Adolescent eating disorder issues summarized

Adolescent weight management summarized

Adolescent weight management evaluation table

Healthy nutrition for children:  an interview

Pregnancy in Adolescence

Risky Eating Behaviors

MPH Student Research 
Biographical Information

 Risky Eating Behaviors

Jane Mitchell Rees, PhD, RD, CD
Departments of Health Services and Pediatrics 
Maternal Child Health and Adolescent Medicine 
University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195

Eating Disorders
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Risky Eating Behaviors

Weight Management

Helping Parents Cope with Risky Eating Behaviors Among Children and Adolescents


"How can I help my children develop healthy eating habits, especially during the teen years?" is one of the most common questions asked of adolescent nutritional health care providers.

"How do I help them deal with obesity or eating disorders?" is another.

Background, approaches and specific techniques for professionals to share with parents of children/adolescents, in various stages of development, are outlined below.

   Family Meals with Adolescents are Key ... Related to 

Healthy eating habits

Psychosocial well-being

See study (click here)



Modern family life is rapidly paced -- less time for healthy eating

Parents give up -- children make own choices

Children's judgment less mature --- parents need to guide them

Start training about foods early - children most influenced by families in preschool years

Father very important

Chronic disease starts in childhood

Sugar is stored as fat, and can cause oral problems and/or diabetes,  -- not hyperactivity



Take a guiding attitude toward food -- similar to teaching children to manage money

Give increasing responsibility -- developmentally appropriate skill-building and decision-making tasks

Point out problems -- advertising and popularity of unhealthy foods


Properly prepared children:

-- make healthy food choices as they grow away from family

-- will experiment

-- still prefer healthy food along with french fries etc.


Specific Techniques

Involve young children in food preparation -- setting table, choosing fruits, vegetables and occasional treats when shopping

Follow signs that children are ready to help -- use windows of opportunity

Teach label reading -- nutrient and ingredient "literacy"

Focus on unprocessed foods -- limit sugar and fat.


Problems During Pre Teens

Changing habits or coercing them at this period is difficult

Hold family meeting to discuss ways to substitute healthy for unhealthy foods

Change all family food habits together

Begin at beginning to develop healthy habits together -- have to make up for earlier steps omitted


Problems During Teen Age Years

Best if good habits have built up over time

Teenagers experiment with risky food behaviors (as with other health behaviors)

Following experimentation, adolescents are likely to return to healthy habits of family as they had growing up

Girls view food as threat to shape, boys take sometimes dangerous muscle-building supplements

Lack of exercise/eating too much fat and sugar -- RISKY


Realize Problem is Serious at Any Age if:

Child/adolescent is continually emotional and obsessional over food

Eating or starving to cope with unhappiness becomes a vicious cycle

Physical and/or mental health are affected

Anger and conflict erupting over foods shuts out communication

Person cannot or will not change risky behaviors


Solution Seek Professional Intervention



As any out of hand risky behavior, support of family, friends and health care professional is the best method of addressing disordered eating



Irwin CE Jr, Igra V, Eyre S, & Millstein S. 1997.  Risk-taking behavior in adolescents:  The paradigm.  In Adolescent Nutritional Disorders: Prevention and Treatment.  Eds. Jacobsen MS, Rees JM, Golden NH & Irwin CE.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1997, Vol. 817 : 1-35.

Adams LB.  1997. An overview of adolescent eating behavior barriers to implementing dietary guidelines.  In Adolescent Nutritional Disorders: Prevention and Treatment.  Eds. Jacobsen MS, Rees JM, Golden NH & Irwin CE.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1997, Vol. 817 : 36-48.

Eisenberg ME, Olson RE, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, & Bearinger LH.  2004. Correlations Between Family Meals and Psychosocial Well-being Among Adolescents.  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158:792-796

Lytle LA & Roski J.  1997.  Unhealthy eating and other risk-taking behavior:  are they related?  In Adolescent Nutritional Disorders: Prevention and Treatment.  Eds. Jacobsen MS, Rees JM, Golden NH & Irwin CE.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1997, Vol. 817 : 49-65.

Rees JM.  1999.  Junk food vs. Healthy nutrition for children. An interview for


This Web Site is a reference for health care professionals, students and educators; it is not intended to provide treatment. If you have a health problem see a health care specialist.