Association between childhood feeding problems and maternal eating disorder: role of the family environment

The British Journal of Psychiatry (2004) 184: 210-215
© 2004 The Royal College of Psychiatrists

Association between childhood feeding problems and maternal eating disorder: role of the family environment

Department of Psychology, University of Reading,UK

Correspondence: Professor Peter J. Cooper, Winnicott Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AL, UK. E-mail:

Background There is a strong relationship between feeding problems in childhood and eating disorder in the mother. The mechanisms responsible for this relationship are not understood.

Aims To elucidate family-environmental factors that could mediate this association.

Method A general population sample of children with feeding problems (n=35), other problems (shyness, fears or behavioural problems; n=58), or no problems (n=23) was identified. The mental state of their mothers was evaluated, including an assessment of current and past eating disorder. Video recordings were made in the families’ homes of a mealtime and of the mothers and children participating in a standardised exploratory task.

Results Two family-environmental variables significantly distinguished the children with feeding problems from the other two groups: ‘mealtime disorganisation’ and ‘maternal strong control and disharmony’. Path analysis revealed the importance of these two environmental variables in mediating the association between child and maternal disturbance.

Conclusions The degree of mealtime disorganisation and the level of maternal strong control and disharmony mediate the association between maternal eating disorder and child feeding disturbance.

Pediatric Articles Dr Widodo Judarwanto (pediatrician)

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