Parental Behaviors May Affect Eating Disorder Risk
> 11/30/2007 11:34:58 AM

Early life experiences, especially with in terms of parents' actions toward their children, can affect the development of eating disorders, according to an Australian study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. The researchers examined the childhood experiences of girls with eating disorders and depression, finding evidence that parents' comments, expectations, and the amount of control they exert over their daughters can contribute to the development of anorexia, bulimia or depression.

The researchers, led by Dr. Tracy D. Wade of Flinders University, gathered information on early life experiences from a total of 622 female twins. They compared the experiences of 170 girls who had anorexia, bulimia, or depression to the experiences of girls without these disorders. They also studied 226 twin pairs in which one twin had an eating disorder or depression and the other did not. Their results indicate that parents' actions can affect a daughter's chances of developing an eating disorder or depression. Girls with eating disorders were more likely to have parents who commented on their appearance and eating habits, and they were also more likely to have received less care from their fathers. Family conflict also had an effect and was associated with anorexia, bulimia, and depression. High parental expectations put girls at risk for bulimia and depression, although this connection was strongest for girls with bulimia. The researchers also found that girls who reported having an overprotective or controlling father were more likely to have anorexia.

The results of this study provide more information on the factors that lead to eating disorders and depression, and with a greater knowledge of this information, physicians and therapists can better tailor the treatment options to fit a patient's needs. A girl with anorexia may feel a lack of control in her life possibly related to an overprotective father, while a girl with bulimia may have an incorrect perception of her parents' expectations for her. Working together, a girl's family and doctor can help her to address the underlying factors that may have contributed to her eating disorder or other mental illness.

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