Dieting mothers have anorexic daughters, study suggests
Girls whose mothers are on a diet are almost twice as likely to have an eating disorder, a poll of more than 500 teenagers suggests.
Many girls say their mother has the biggest influence on their own self-image and they feel damaged by the effects of their mum’s dieting and views on food.
The survey of 512 teenage girls, with an average age of 14 (age range of 12 to 18) found 6% had an eating disorder, rising to one in 10 among those whose mothers diet
Almost four out of 10 girls (38%) said their mother had the biggest influence on how they perceived themselves.
Two-thirds (66%) said they had heard their mum complaining about her own weight and 56% have mothers who are on a diet.
This is despite 68% describing their mother’s body size as perfectly normal.
Other findings in the survey include:
:: More than half of teenage girls surveyed (51%) have dieted. This becomes 59% among girls whose mothers diet.
:: Almost eight out of 10 (78%) girls worry about their weight - 20% say they worry about their looks all the time.
:: One in five girls said they are criticised by family members for being ‘’too big’’ and 51% of those have been hurt by their parents talking about their size.
:: Almost one in three have been called names like ‘elephant’ or ‘beast’ by their relatives.
:: Among girls who get comments about their weight from their families, 58% worry about their looks all the time.
:: 9% of teenage girls say they are ‘constantly’ on a diet. Among girls whose families comment on their weight, this rose to 24%.
The survey was carried out among readers of teen magazine, Sugar.
Its editor Annabel Brog said girls were heavily influenced by their family’s views on diet and food - so-called "thinheritance’’.
She said: "Every single issue of Sugar magazine features fashion modelled by ‘regular’ girls, with different body sizes and shapes, to prove all bodies are gorgeous when they’re well fed and exercised.
"But it stands to reason that a girl’s ‘thinheritance’ - the attitude to food and body-shape she is exposed to day-after-day in her home - is going to be more powerful than anything we can print in a magazine.
"And of course many girls feel their mums, who typically diet and worry about their own weight, are their greatest influence.’’
Psychologist Amanda Hills said: "Children learn how to behave by watching their parents.
"Food becomes an issue when mum isn’t sitting down to dinner with everyone else or is off preparing a separate meal for herself.
"And a dieting parent will label certain foods as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, which can lead to an unhealthy approach to food.
"The ‘drip-drip’ effect of constant self-criticism in front of easily-influenced teens teaches them to do likewise.
"If mum’s calling herself fat, it won’t be long before her daughter is too.
"I would say at least half of the people I see with an eating disorder admit that there are problems with eating in the family.’’
Sugar reader Jessica, 16, from Berkshire, said: "My mum’s often saying how ugly she thinks she is in front of me.
"She wouldn’t come out to dinner with us when we were on holiday last year because none of her clothes flattered her.
"I hate it - she’s so beautiful and not fat at all.
"I know she doesn’t mean it, but sometimes I do think it has an effect on me and might be part of why I’m so self-conscious about my weight and chunky legs.’’
Sophie, 14, from London, said: "Dad calls me a ‘heifer’ when I eat everything on my plate at dinner.
"The first time he said it, I was embarrassed, but told myself he was just trying to be funny.
"But he keeps saying it and I’ve started to think maybe I am a heifer.
"I’d never really looked at myself as ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ before, but I’ve stopped eating as much because I can’t bear it any more.’’
Jo, 17, from Norfolk, said: "I was diagnosed with anorexia last year and am only just starting to eat properly again.
"Mum blames herself because she was bulimic several years ago, and she constantly talked about her fear of being fat.
"It meant that I saw food as something to be scared of and started to avoid it.’’
© The Telegraph Group London 2009