Dads, Too, Can Increase Daughters’ Risk for Eating Disorders

By Christina Elston

Health Notes Archives - Click Here If you’re a dad on a diet, don’t flaunt that fact in front of your daughter. Your attitude about your weight – and hers – affects how your daughter views her body, and could even put her at risk of developing an eating disorder, according to new research.

In one of the first studies to examine the impact of fathers on whether girls develop eating disorders, Stanford University researchers found that dads who are dissatisfied with their own bodies, have a high drive for thinness and restrict their own food intake are more likely to have daughters who develop eating disorders in adolescence. Lead researcher W. Steward Agras, M.D., points out that either parent – mom or dad – who expresses concern or criticism about a daughter’s weight and shape or who pushes the daughter to diet can increase the girl’s risk of developing bulimia.

The study, published in the February 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, followed 134 children from birth to age 11. Agras notes that the parents’ influence on their children’s attitudes about food and weight occurred before adolescence. Children begin to become concerned about these issues as early as third grade, he says.

To help protect their children, parents should keep their own food and weight issues low-key, Agras advises. “If they’re going on a diet, they shouldn’t make a fuss about it.”

Parents should also do what they can to counter society’s messages about the importance of weight and shape, he says. “I think we need to take the focus off that and put the focus on other good attributes of children.”

Christina Elston is a senior editor and health writer for Dominion Parenting Media.

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