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Parents play important role in teen eating behaviours

The way parents manage mealtimes has been linked to lower levels of eating disorders in teenagers, according to a new study from Loughborough University.

Researchers looked at perceptions of more than 500 teens aged 13-15, and found that those who felt their parents had more responsibility for providing meals, or whose parents were in charge of food provision, reported lower levels of eating disorders.

However, parents’ use of more controlling food-related strategies was linked to less desirable teen eating behaviours.

If girls feel pressured by their parents to eat, they are more likely to report signs of disordered eating.

Conversely, boys were more likely to report symptoms of eating disorders where they feel that certain foods are restricted by their parents.

Dr Emma Haycraft in the University’s Centre for Research into Eating Disorders (LUCRED) is leading the project. She said:

“Our findings highlight the importance of parents continuing to be responsible for mealtimes until their children are well into their teens. 

“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.  

“Our next step will be to find out to what extent the teens’ perception corresponds with what their parents are actually doing.”

Professor Caroline Meyer, director of LUCRED, added:

“The results of such studies are important for facilitating the development of interventions aimed at promoting healthy eating behaviours in teenagers which is part of our ongoing research at LUCRED”.

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.