Peer and friend influences on eating behaviour in school children

2015-04-29T08:54:56Z (GMT) by Laura Houldcroft
Currently there is limited research addressing the eating behaviours of preadolescent children, despite evidence suggesting that friends and peers may contribute to the developing eating attitudes and behaviours of children of this age. Eating behaviours in terms of this thesis include both under- and over- eating behaviours, with a specific focus on the under-eating behaviour, dietary restraint, and the over-eating behaviours emotional eating and external eating. The fundamental aim of this thesis was to examine friend and peer influences on children s eating behaviours, with a specific focus on a community sample of preadolescent children. Based on links established in the literature between childhood eating behaviours (dietary restraint, emotional eating and external eating) and parental controlling feeding practices (pressure to eat and restriction) and childhood symptoms of anxiety and depression, these factors were also considered alongside the contribution of friends and peers, both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. The longitudinal stability and continuity of self-reported eating behaviours and perceived parental feeding practices in preadolescent children were also examined in this thesis. A pilot study and experimental study provided an objective measure of children s snack food intake following a school lunchtime, when offered a selection (healthy and unhealthy) of snack foods in the presence of friends and peers. Links between food intake in the presence of friends and peers, and self-reported eating behaviours, parental controlling feeding practices, child symptoms of anxiety and depression and BMI were further explored. The research in this thesis suggests that friends dieting behaviours predict individual children s dieting behaviours, and also highlights links between problematic eating and anxiety in preadolescent children. Parental controlling feeding practices were found to have a negative impact on preadolescents eating behaviours and were also found to be potentially linked to the development or maintenance of anxiety and depression symptoms in children of this age. Preadolescents reports of eating behaviours and perceptions of the controlling feeding practices their parents utilised with them were stable over time, but, with the exception of restriction, lacked continuity. Dietary restraint, emotional eating and external eating decreased over a 12 month period. While some of the research in this thesis requires replication, the results present many novel and interesting findings. Using longitudinal and experimental data, the research reported on in this thesis highlights the important contributions of friends, peers, parents and individual anxiety and low mood to the eating attitudes and behaviours of preadolescent aged children.