Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook

By Christopher G. Fairburn; Kelly D. Brownell | Go to book overview

39
Eating Disorders and Childrearing

ALAN STEIN

There is now good evidence that psychiatric disorders among parents have the potential to interfere with their childrearing capacities and hence the development of their children. Eating disorders are an important source of psychiatric morbidity among women of childbearing age. They are of particular concern for at least two reasons. First, the core symptoms are extremely pervasive and disruptive of daily living, and thus may conflict with sensitive parenting. These symptoms include a preoccupation with body shape, weight, and food, as well as extreme behaviors both to limit food intake and to compensate for overeating, all of which may draw parental attention away from the needs of the child. Second, parents with eating disorders commonly have difficulties in their interpersonal relationships that may extend to their relationships with their children.

Infancy and adolescence are likely to be the times when children are particularly vulnerable to the influence of parental eating disorder psychopathology. Parents spend much time during the first months and years feeding their young infants, and feeding is one of the ways in which much communication occurs between parents and their children. The attitudes, preoccupations, and behaviors manifested by people with eating disorders may interfere with their ability to sit patiently feeding their infants, while responding appropriately to their hunger needs and cues. Adolescence, also an important time, is when children become increasingly aware of social pressures to conform and develop increased interest in body shape and attractiveness.

Surprisingly little research has been conducted on the childrearing practices of parents with eating disorders. Most of the reports have consisted of case reports and case series, although, recently, a few controlled studies have been conducted on the young children of mothers with eating disorders. There have also been a few studies of eating disorder psychopathology among mothers and their adolescent daughters.


STUDIES OF YOUNG CHILDREN

The case reports and series have raised concern that the children of mothers with eating disorders may be at risk of adverse sequelae. Most of the work has concentrated exclu

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