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Children may look to parents for eating and weight loss attitudes and behaviours

Yale University : 08 August, 2000  (New Product)
College-age women are particularly sensitive to perceived criticism about eating and weight from their mothers in forming their own eating and weight attitudes and behaviors, a study by Yale researchers shows.
Male college students, on the other hand, have eating and weight attitudes and behaviors that are associated with their perception of their fathers' eating attitudes and behaviors, the study shows.

The study published in Health Psychology was based on research conducted by Christina Baker, who was a graduate student in psychology at Yale. Baker, now training as a clinical psychologist in Boston, was initially interested in whether there was a similarity between parents' and childrens' attitudes and behaviors surrounding eating and weight.

Studies of eating disorders among sub-populations that value thinness, such as dancers and models, are common in the field. But Baker said the family has not been carefully researched as a subculture of its own in relation to eating and weight.

The study participants were recruited from two private co-educational universities in Connecticut. The final sample included 91 male and female students, 87 mothers and 66 fathers.

Baker said one problem with some current data is it asks parents to report their own attitudes and behaviors, which they might skew in fear of looking like they passed along unhealthy eating and weight loss habits. This study examined parental attitudes and behaviors from the perspective of both parents and their children.

'A lot of people are concerned about blame being placed on parents,' said Baker. 'This study points out that childrens' perceptions are more important. Parents might do helpful things, they might do harmful things, but they can't really control how they are perceived by their children.'

Baker and her colleagues looked at the discrepancy between what the parents reported about their own attitudes and behaviors related to eating and weight and what their children perceived about their parents' attitudes and behaviors. They found some evidence that a discrepancy between the two might be a predictor of eating concerns.

'The results highlight the importance of parent-child communication,' Baker said.

The way in which eating and weight loss attitudes and behaviors are developed are a growing area of research interest because of the reported national epidemic of obesity.
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