When parents notice potential risky behavior in their child, their instinct is often to shun that behavior, to tell the child some version of "Stop it." But research from the University of Minnesota suggests rewording "Stop it" to "Try this instead," when it comes to the child's health and nutrition, can have monumental impacts on his or her well-being later in life.

Published in journal JAMA Pediatrics, the study asked 2,348 parents of adolescents, half of whom were overweight, how they talked to their kids about issues of weight, diet, and nutrition. Overall, the portion of adolescents who engaged in unhealthy diet practices had been told negative, judgmental critiques from their parents rather than encouraging, positive advice that focused on overall well-being, not weight.

"The typical problem in weight management in adults and kids is that they talk about weight rather than health," Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness told MedicalDaily. "When you talk about kids, body image and self-image are so at the forefront that it's really important to approach the talk from a health perspective."

Nearly 60 percent of mothers and fathers had had conversations with their child, at some point, to lose weight or change their diet. Not all of these children were overweight; one in three healthy weight children heard the same talk from their parents.

By contrast, only 15 percent of parents engaged in healthy conversation with their children — promoting healthy activities they could do as a family or highlighting the importance of nutrition according to the child's interests, such as eating fruits and whole grains to boost their energy during a soccer game, for example.

About 40 percent of the children engaged in healthy conversation reported unhealthful weight loss behavior, such as eating laxatives and fasting. That number rose to 64 percent in children whose parents did not discuss nutrition in a helpful manner.

Mary Jo Rapini, co-author of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex, or Whatever..., told TIME that fathers and daughters share a particular relationship that deserves heightened sensitivity.

"Dads should never comment on girls' or daughters' bodies," she said, advocating instead for conversations that bolster girls' current enjoyment in physical activity, so they "feel loved by their dad and confident enough to work on their body issues."

These body issues, argues leader author of the study Dr. Jerica Berge, are topics that should remain quiet during conversation between parents and kids. No reference should be made, in other words, to ideal weight goals, numbers, or desired physical appearances. These are merely by-products of a naturally healthy lifestyle, which Berge says is the ultimate goal. Parents, therefore, should seek to instill that goal in their children.

How they incorporate that mindset is equally important. Maintaining healthy habits is ideally a family affair. Berge urges both parents to take an active role in talking to their kids, provided that both can deliver a coherent, positive message. One parent contradicting the other ends up hurting their overall impact.

"Choose the parent whose interactions evoke the least amount of stress and who demonstrates healthy eating themselves," said clinical psychologist and physical therapist Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo.

In the end, poor nutrition isn't just a folly of youth; parents should set the example for their kids, experts advise. Children are more likely to mirror their parents' behavior than their words, so while kids deserve responsibility for what they put in their bodies, their parents decide what goes in the kitchen.

"Parents must look in the mirror first," clinical director of WiseHeart Wellness Nancy Anderson Dolan told TIME. "and deal with their own issues, both about weight prejudice and health habits."

Source: Berge J, MacLehose R, Loth K, et al. Parent Conversations About Healthful Eating and Weight, JAMA Pediatrics. 2013.