What parents say to teens at mealtime could contribute to adolescent eating disorders

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Parents could contribute to teen eating disorders by trying to control what they eat and how much.
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According to a new report in the Journal of Adolescent Health, teen eating habits can go awry from pressuring parents from parent.

Lead author Emma Haycraft, Ph.D., of the Centre for Research into Eating Disorders at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, U.K. said in a press release, "Eating disorders are most likely to manifest during the teenage years - “a time of developing autonomy.”

The result of trying to control a child's eating can lead to binging or eating other foods in order to regain self-control, she said.

Telling teens they can't leave the table until they eat their vegetable can also thwart healthy eating habits because it creates a negative atmosphere at mealtime; interfering with sensations of fullness.

The study

For their investigation, the researchers recruited 500 boys and girls who told the researchers about their eating problems (psychopathology), their parents feeding practices and their height and weight. The teens were age 13 to 15.

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The findings suggested when parents try to control kids’ eating habits the probability of adolescent eating disorder is higher.

“For both boys and girls, parental involvement was related to lower eating disorder symptomatology [the combined symptoms of a disease], while excessive control was related to higher eating disorder symptomatology. This suggests that parents should be involved in making sure their adolescents are eating the right types of foods, but that they should avoid telling their adolescents how much they should eat,” Haycraft said.

A new study also suggests overeating can be caused by faulty brain wiring, perhaps making some people more susceptible.

Many teens struggle with body perception. Eating disorders are surprisingly common during adolescent development, making the finding important.

The study did not look at specific types of disordered eating, but one surprise was that boys tended to develop more symptoms of eating problems than girls when parents tried to restrict their food intake. Girls developed more symptoms when parents told them to eat more food.

A 2010 study highlighted the prevalence of anorexia and bullimia among children under age 12, which are common types of eating problems that can lead to significant health issues.

Here is some advice from a teenager about what parents should look for that are signs your child may have an eating disorder.

The study sheds light on how parents can contribute to teen eating disorders, but more studies are needed to understand specific types of problems that adolescents can develop when parents try to control how much their child eats or what kind of food they consume. Parents should focus on bringing healthy food to family meals, the study suggests.

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