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Julia Guerin, Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D.

Relations among Daughters’ Eating Attitudes and Behaviors, Perceptions of Parents’ Eating Attitudes and Behaviors, and Direct Encouragement to Diet

Purpose: This study investigated the relations between the eating attitudes and behaviors of parents and daughters, from the daughter’s perspective. This study tested for predicted associations between eating attitudes, eating behaviors, direct parental criticism, and parent-child closeness.

Methods: This study used correlational methods. Participants included 203 undergraduate females enrolled in introductory psychology courses at Loyola University Maryland. Analyses included the 184 participants who identified both a biological mother and biological father. For these participants, mean age was 18.78 (SD = .94), and the majority of participants were Caucasian (81.4%) and Middle-Upper class (73.1%). Average BMI was 22.43 (SD = 2.97). Eating Attitudes Test-26 and Unhealthy Weight Control Behaviors measure were used to assess daughters’ eating attitudes and behaviors. The Attitudes and Behaviors Scale, Perceived Closeness measure, and Direct Encouragement Questionnaire were used to assess perceived parental attitudes and behaviors, closeness, and direct encouragement to diet.

Results: Results indicated the presence of relations between eating attitudes and behaviors of both father and daughter and mother and daughter, independently, as well as an effect of both parents’ direct encouragement to diet on daughters’ eating attitudes and behaviors. For example, a high level of direct encouragement from both mother and father was related to unhealthy eating attitudes and increased dieting behaviors. Daughters who perceive their mothers and fathers to hold unhealthy eating attitudes and demonstrate high levels of dieting behavior were also more likely to show the same patterns. In addition, parent-child closeness affected the way in which parent behavior was related to daughters’ attitudes and behaviors: When levels of parent-child closeness were high, there was an increased association between both parent attitudes and behaviors and daughter attitudes and behaviors, as well as parent direct encouragement and daughter attitudes and behaviors.

Conclusion: As one of the first studies to directly examine the role of fathers in daughters’ eating and attitudes development, this study makes clear the relations between parents’ and daughters’ eating attitudes and behaviors. While there are many factors that contribute to the development of these unhealthy attitudes and behaviors, it is important to recognize the need for awareness and intervention efforts within the family. Health care providers working with families of both girls and young women should be aware of these associations, and therefore the role that parents may play in a daughter’s development of attitudes and behaviors surrounding eating.

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