Young children often receive different messages about their bodies from their parents, peers and the media. These three factors are the primary sociocultural influences of eating disorders. Although causing a young child to develop an eating disorder is typically unintentional, it is important to increase awareness regarding what influences disordered eating.

Because of outside influences boys generally strive to build muscles, while girls tend to have a specific body image in mind and may use weight loss strategies to achieve what they believe is an ideal body size based on cultural expectations.

There is a significant relationship between negative body image and media exposure. In the media, women are encouraged to buy the newest anti-aging product, weight loss plan, Botox, makeup, etc. to achieve this ideal image. This can trigger eating disorders in children as it may seem that one should do everything possible to control how they look.

Tips on How to Prevent Impact of Media on Your Child’s Body Image:

  • Encourage your child to limit or avoid social media exposure
  • Talk to your child about how most photos on social media are photoshopped or filtered
  • Explain what media literacy is to your child
  • Encourage them to avoid comparing themselves to others

Parental food attitudes and eating behaviors also influence their children’s eating habits. For example, daughters are more likely to restrict food intake if encouraged to lose weight by her mother. Parental use of food as a reward has also been associated with child emotional overeating or under-eating as a result of the child not being able to recognize hunger.

In fact, daughters’ attitudes about their bodies and eating behaviors are directly related to their mother’s verbal and nonverbal messages. Additionally, girls are more likely to develop ideas about dieting when their mothers diet. A mother’s opinion of her own body can even influence her daughter, as mothers who are more concerned with their own bodies are more likely to limit their children’s eating

The following factors have been associated with negative body esteem, eating attitudes and body image among adolescents:

  • Low-self esteem
  • Lack of social support
  • Weight-related teasing
  • Greater pressure to lose weight

Peers also influence body image, food attitudes and eating behaviors. A girl’s risk for developing an eating disorder increases if she is frequently around someone who diets.

Fat talk is also common among peer adolescent interaction which relates to negative body image. Adolescents and young women should be educated on what is considered fat talk, how to identify fat talk and the negative effect it places on body image. Educating your child on fat talk can reduce body image disturbance.

Being aware of what influences an eating disorder can help prevent your child from developing one through educating them, when and if appropriate.

Although their intention is to be helpful, mothers who promote dieting may be trying to help their children and protect them from society’s expectations, but early dieting may lead to a lifelong battle with body image. Early dieting can also increase a child’s risk of becoming obese.

Influence Healthy Eating Behaviors

The bottom line is that as a parent, you have a big influence over types of foods your children eat. Positive experiences about food early on may help your children develop healthy eating habits later in life. Learning and practicing positive eating behaviors with the help of a behavioral therapist can also help children and teens when it comes to building a positive body image. Finding the support you need is essential to prevent developing an eating disorder that could become dangerous in the future. Contact Behavioral Nutrition to learn more about how our behavioral therapy services can help your child develop healthy eating habits and a positive body image.