Non-Involved Parents May Contribute To Their Child’s Binge-Eating
A parent’s involvement in their child’s life may play a huge role in how likely a child is to develop binge-eating habits that could potentially develop into binge-eating disorder later in life, according to a recent study from the University of Illinois.
While the weight, race, and income of parents seemed to have no effect on whether a child would develop disordered eating habits, children whose parents were either emotionally or physically unavailable or engaged in weight-related teasing were significantly more likely to develop binge-eating habits.
“This study found that childhood binge eating is really associated with parents’ weight-related beliefs, but not their actual weight, and their emotional availability but not necessarily the income availability,” said Jaclyn Saltzman, a doctoral researcher in human development and family studies, and a scholar in the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program.
Saltzman also explained that childhood binge eating can contribute to depression, obesity, and many other weight and eating behavior issues as time goes on. This is why early intervention and recognition of these behaviors is so important.
“Intervening early to address binge eating may not only help prevent an eating disorder from emerging but also prevent lifetime habits of unhealthy weight-related behaviors.”
The team from UI focused specifically on binge eating and loss-of-control eating behaviors. While loss of control is not officially recognized as a symptom of eating disorders in children, it is recognized as a symptom of binge-eating in adults and is gaining acceptance as a sign of disordered eating in adolescents.
“Loss of control is something that researchers have used to describe binge eating in young children. The idea is that the size of the binge — the amount of food they eat — is less important than the feelings of being out of control or the stress about that eating behavior, especially in young kids, because they don’t have all that much control over the food that they have access to,” said Saltzman.
“Binge eating is feeling like you are not in control when you are eating. You are eating past the point of fullness and to the point of discomfort. You are experiencing a lot of emotional distress because of it,” she said.
For this study, Saltzman worked with Dr. Janet M. Liechty, professor of medicine and social work at University of Illinois, to analyze studies on childhood binge-eating conducted over the past 35 years, due to the relative scarcity of recent research on children and binge-eating.
After starting with over 700 potentially-relevant studies, the team used strict inclusion criteria to limit the included studies to those involving children under 12, used reliable instrument, and showed no signs of constructs of interest.
“That left us with 15 studies, which we screened with a tool to assess risk for bias so that we could comment on the strengths and limitations in the studies,” Saltzman said.
According to the findings of the analysis, poor parenting traits like ignoring children or under-involvement, emotional non-responsiveness, and weight-related teasing in the family are associated with childhood binge-eating.
“We want to emphasize to parents that weight isn’t the ‘be all end all,’ and that focusing on weight too much can be damaging. Instead, focusing on giving kids the tools they need to manage their emotions, particularly emotions around eating and weight, can help strengthen children’s coping skills so they are less likely to need binge eating.” Saltzman said.
The findings show how important it is for a parent to be closely involved in their child’s life and support positive habits within the family. Creating an environment where weight is made fun of or a child feels like they can’t talk to their parent is a recipe for disaster.