Parents’ crucial role in teenage eating habits

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Parents should continue to take charge of meals until their children are well into their teens says a new study of youngsters’ eating behaviour.

After canvassing the views of more than 500 youngsters between the ages of 13 and 15, researchers at Loughborough University have found that teens whose parents are responsible for providing food at home are less likely to experience eating disorders. But they also concluded that the use of more controlling food-related strategies by parents could lead to problems.

For instance, if girls felt pressurised by their parents to eat they were more likely to show signs of disordered eating. Boys, on the other hand, were more likely to experience eating disorders when they believed they were being restricted from eating certain foods.

“For girls, it was perceived pressure to eat more food which was related to higher levels of eating psychopathology,” said the report, “whereas for boys, greater restriction of food was linked to eating psychopathology. Pressure to eat is often used with children who are underweight, and it is possible that parents might be using this practice to encourage adolescent girls who may be restricting their intake to eat more.” 

The research showed the positive impact of parents sitting around the table and eating with their teenagers.

“Our findings highlight the importance of parents continuing to be responsible for mealtimes until their children are well into their teens,” said Dr Emma Haycraft, who is based at Loughborough University’s Centre for Research into Eating Disorders and is one of the authors of the report.

“By providing meals, and at the same time avoiding the use of overly controlling feeding practices, parents and carers can help contribute to more positive eating behaviours.”

The paper, Adolescents’ Level of Eating Psychopathology is Related to Perceptions of their Parents’ Current Feeding Practices, has been published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

 


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