Perceptions of parental pressure to eat and eating behaviours in preadolescents: the mediating role of anxiety

Previous research suggests that parental controlling feeding practices are associated with children's overeating and undereating behaviours. However, there is limited research addressing the link between children's mental health symptoms (specifically anxiety and depression) and their reports of eating behaviours, despite knowledge that these psychopathologies often co-exist. The current study aimed to identify the relationships between preadolescents' perceptions of their parents' feeding practices with reports of their own anxiety, depression and eating behaviours. Three hundred and fifty-six children (mean age 8.75 years) completed questionnaires measuring their dietary restraint, emotional eating and external eating, as well as their perceptions of their parents' use of pressure to eat and restriction of food. Children also completed measures of general anxiety, social anxiety and depression symptomology. Results indicated that preadolescents' eating behaviours were associated with their perceptions of the controlling feeding practices their parents used with them. Preadolescents' dietary restraint, emotional eating and external eating behaviours were positively associated with their reports of general and social anxiety, and depression symptomology. In addition, perceptions of parental pressure to eat were positively related to preadolescents' anxiety and depression levels. Child anxiety (general and social) was found to mediate the relationship between perceptions of parental pressure to eat and preadolescents' eating behaviours (dietary restraint, emotional eating and external eating). The results suggest that greater anxiety in preadolescents may explain why children who perceive greater pressure to eat by their parents are more likely to exhibit maladaptive eating behaviours. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.