Mothers play a large role in preventing eating disorders

A ‘personal example’ makes it easier for girls, show researchers.

November 30, 2015 03:37
2 minute read.
Food [illustrative]

Food [illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Mothers have a significant role in preventing their daughters from eating disorders, according to new research released by the University of Haifa. Women who participated with their daughters in an intervention problem to prevent anorexia nervosa, bulimia and other eating disorders, it was found, made it easier for the girls to avoid these problems.

“These findings stress the significant role of mothers in establishing the body image of their children by giving a personal example for imitation,” said Dr. Zohar Spivack- Lavi, who conducted the study. “This finding is new, and it contributes greatly to the prevention of eating disorders in adolescents,” she continued.

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Even though there are numerous programs to help young girls cope with eating disorders, until now the characteristics for success of these and other interventions have not been found. Most of the programs focused on the expansion of information, but did not achieve long-term behavioral change, said Spivack- Lavi, of the faculty of social welfare and health sciences.

The researcher, who earned her doctorate with a thesis on the subject, was guided by Prof. Yael Letzer and Prof.

Ruth Katz. She wanted to know whether the active participation of mothers could bring the desired success.

A total of 118 girls in sixth grade, including a study group of 35 accompanied by their mothers and an equal number who participated alone, plus a control group of 48, answered questionnaires at three different times – before the program took place, when it was completed, and six months after it was completed.

Girls who participated with their mothers showed a significant decline in pathological behavior connected to eating.

They valued themselves more, had a better body image and had more modern behaviors relating to diet compared to girls who took part in the intervention alone.

But just as the mothers had a positive role, they could also have a negative influence if they were busy themselves with dieting and participating in sports to lose weight.

The daughters of this group showed lower satisfaction with their bodies, and their behaviors were more pathological.

Mothers naturally serve as a significant model for their daughters, said Spivack-Lavi.

“When the parents adopt messages that encourage their children to be thin, the youngsters are likely to adopt similar positions and behaviors as children and even in adolescence,” she asserted. “It is very important to integrate mothers in programs to prevent eating disorders and not conduct them separately,” she concluded.

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