Go to the page content

Talking to teens about obesity – navigating a sensitive topic

Caregivers Teens and Adolescents

Worried about changes in your teen’s weight but not sure how to tackle this tricky subject? In this article, we offer some pointers to get you started

As parents, or caregivers, we all want the best for the young people we look after. We want them to be happy, healthy and confident – especially as they navigate the teenage years, when changing hormones can offer many challenges!  

But what should we do if our teen has extra weight or is living with obesity? Many parents and caregivers are hesitant about raising the subject of weight. It’s a sensitive topic and it’s only natural to want to avoid conflict. However, there comes a time when you might need to act. Perhaps you have discovered that your teen is being bullied. Maybe you can see they are struggling with low self-esteem or depression. Or you may worry about their long-term health – 4 out of 5 teenagers living with obesity will become an adult living with obesity. If this sounds familiar to you, let’s look at some of the questions parents and caregivers often ask themselves.

Am I to blame?

Many parents take on all the blame for their child living with obesity and feel they could have done more for them. The truth is that obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors. These include genetic, psychological, environmental and physiological factors (how a person’s body functions). Caregivers cannot be responsible for everything a young person does or shield them from all external factors. What they can do is support them to make positive choices and encourage them to seek medical support when needed.

Shouldn’t teens take responsibility for their own health?

In a recent study, 65% of teens with obesity felt that weight loss was their responsibility


It is good to allow teens to develop a sense of responsibility for their actions, but most young people need guidance and encouragement along the way. If they are struggling with their weight, they may welcome the chance to share their feelings with a family member or friend and together discuss the best approach to take.

Could it do more harm than good to talk about obesity?

Many parents or caregivers worry that talking about weight will somehow make things worse – by adding to low self-esteem or triggering an unhealthy relationship with their bodies and food. In most cases, it is better to bring things out into the open and tackle them head on. It can be very beneficial to encourage open conversations in the household, as this can make the home a ‘safe’ place for your child to discuss weight openly.

Healthcare professionals, including GPs, pharmacists and nurses, can often provide valuable support as a next step also. 

How do I raise the subject of weight?

Pick your moment! Try to find a time when you will not be disturbed. Gently introduce the subject, e.g. “I’ve noticed that you seem worried about your weight” or “At your last medical appointment, the doctor mentioned that you have gained weight – would you like to talk about it?”. Another option could be to say “How do you feel about your body, or your weight?” as a way to gently plant the seed to opening a conversation. Using the BMI calculator below can be a good way of starting a discussion about healthy weight. If your teen is reluctant to open up, make it clear that you are there to talk whenever they are ready. Once you have raised the subject, it will be easier to return to it later.


Talking to teens - some do's and don'ts


  • pick a quiet time to talk, for example, during a car journey 
  • encourage your teen to talk openly
  • be sympathetic (Empathy not sympathy) and choose your words carefully – ensure you thank your child for being honest and open with you 
  • offer praise when your teen makes healthy choices about food or exercise
  • focus on the health and quality of life benefits of losing weight rather than physical appearance
  • reassure your teen that it is possible to take charge of their weight and that you are on this journey together
  • offer positive suggestions, such as taking walks or playing sport together, trying out healthy recipes or  agreeing weekly limits on treats and snacks
  • point them towards reliable sources of information about weight, such as the articles on this website
  • talk to your doctor to advice on how to improve your family's eating habits and activity levels 


  • judge or lay blame – many teens who are living with overweight already feel guilt and do not want to feel that they are being ‘lectured’
  • overwhelm them with unrealistic goals – agree on small, manageable goals that can be built on over time
  • talk about diets – keep the focus on healthy eating and away from how they look 
  • pressurise them into talking if they are not ready
  • make comparisons with their friends
  • let conversations turn into arguments – if the discussion becomes heated, call a halt and agree to talk on another occasion

Strategies for moving forward

You are not alone!

This website contains numerous articles on a range of topics that will help you and your teen understand the many factors affecting weight and how to meet health goals. They may want to read them in their own time, and you can share articles dedicated to teenagers who are worried about their weight

The European Coalition for People living with Obesity Healthcare providers (ECPO) has launched a podcast on the subject of ‘Voices of Youth in Obesity’.

Healthcare providers trained in weight management can help to develop a treatment plan that is right for your teen. Click on the link below to find local support.

Start the conversation today.


1.    Simmonds M, Llewellyn A, Owen CG, Woolacott N. Predicting adult obesity from childhood obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2016 Feb;17(2):95-107. doi: 10.1111/obr.12334. Epub 2015 Dec 23. PMID: 26696565.

2.    Stop Obesity Alliance. Weigh in: Talking to your children about weight + health. Available at: https://www.apa.org/obesity-guideline/discussing-weight Last accessed: February 2023 

3.    World Obesity. World Obesity Atlas 2022. Available at: https://www.worldobesity.org/resources/resource-library/world-obesity-atlas-2022. Last accessed: February 2023

4.    Halford J, Bereket A, Bin-Abbas B, et al. (2022) Misalignment among adolescents living with obesity, caregivers, and healthcare professionals: ACTION Teens global survey study. Pediatric Obesity; e12957. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijpo.12957

5.    Eatright.org. (2023) How to Talk to Kids about Weight. Available at: https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/weight-and-body-positivity/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-weight Last accessed: February 2023


Find your local weight management provider

Talk to your weight management provider about treatment options that could prevent the weight you lose from coming back.

Was this valuable for you?

You might also like