A preoccupation with weight, shape and size is increasingly being recognised as an emerging public health issue. Given such, there is an increased importance on understanding some of the influences that potentially impact on the development of dieting and disordered eating behaviours (Yager & O’Dea, 2010). The act of starting any diet increases the risk of eating disorders. Research conducted in Australia has shown that adolescent females who diet at a severe level are 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder within six months, than someone who does not diet (Daee et al., 2002; Yeo & Hughes, 2011). Some of the latest research focuses on the impact of various parental attitudes towards dieting, suggesting that certain attitudes held may encourage the development of an eating disorder. This highlights the importance of family involvement during eating disorder treatment (Lantzouni, Cox, Salvator, & Crosby, 2015).
Eating Disorders are complex psychiatric illnesses involving psychological and biological factors (Frank & Kaye, 2012). Research recognises that multiple factors, including social, environmental and genetic, contribute to the development of an eating disorder. More recently, studies have focused on the potential influence of parent behaviour, attitudes and parent-child interactions around dieting, body shape, weight and size. Evidence is growing to support the idea that ways in which weight, shape and size are discussed in the home have a strong impact on the development of self-esteem and an individual's self perception. Neumark-sztainer et al., (2010) and Loth et al., (2014), found that parent comment, dieting behaviours and family weight-based teasing may contribute to the development of an adolescent's disordered eating and dieting behaviours.
Not everyone who diets will develop an eating disorder. However, individuals with an eating disorder commonly have a history of dieting and disordered eating. Unhealthy weight loss dieting is also associated with other health concerns including depression, anxiety, nutritional and metabolic problems, and, contrary to expectation, an increase in weight (Paxton, Wertheim, Pilawski, Durkin, & Holt, 2002). Among girls who diet, the risk of obesity is greater than for non-dieters (Daee et al., 2002; O’Dea, 2005). In addition, young people who engage in unhealthy dieting practices are almost three times as likely as their peers to score high on measures assessing suicide risk (Daee et al., 2002).
This emerging research exposes some of the key protective factors in helping to minimise the development of an eating disorder. It is often the case that health messages, inside and outside of the home, intending to positively influence an individual’s health, may in fact cause unintended harm. This shines light on the importance of education, awareness and family based approaches in supporting healthy relationships with ‘the self’. A focus on the development of knowledge and more understanding of ‘the self’ can help to minimise the potential risks around the development of an eating disorder.
Daee, A., Robinson, P., Lawson, M., Turpin, J. a, Gregory, B., & Tobias, J. D. (2002). Psychologic and physiologic effects of dieting in adolescents. The Southern Medical Journal, 95(9), 1032–1041.
Frank, G. K. W., & Kaye, W. H. (2012). Current status of functional imaging in eating disorders. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(6), 723–36.
Lantzouni, E., Cox, M. H., Salvator, A., & Crosby, R. D. (2015). Mother-daughter coping and disordered eating. European Eating Disorders Review, 23(2), 119–125.
Loth, K. A., Ph, D., D, R., Maclehose, R., Ph, D., Bucchianeri, M., … D, R. (2014). Predictors of Dieting and Disordered Eating Behaviors From Adolescence to Young Adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(5), 705–712.
Neumark-sztainer, D., Ph, D., D, R., Bauer, K. W., S, M., Friend, S., … T, L. M. F. (2010). Family Weight Talk and Dieting : How Much Do They Matter for Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Behaviors in Adolescent Girls ? Journal of Adolescent Health, 47(3), 270–276.
O’Dea, J. a., & O’Dea, J. a. (2005). School-based health education strategies for the improvement of body image and prevention of eating problems: An overview of safe and successful interventions. Health Education, 105(1), 11–33.
Paxton, S. J., Wertheim, E. H., Pilawski, A., Durkin, S., & Holt, T. (2002). Evaluations of dieting prevention messages by adolescent girls. Preventive Medicine, 35(5), 474–491.
Yager, Z., & O’Dea, J. (2010). A controlled intervention to promote a healthy body image, reduce eating disorder risk and prevent excessive exercise among trainee health education and physical education teachers. Health Education Research, 25(5), 841–852.
Yeo, M., & Hughes, E. (2011). Eating disorders: Early identification in general practice. Australian Family Physician, 40(3), 108–111.
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