Exploring associations between positive and negative valanced parental comments about adolescents' bodies and eating and eating problems: a community study

Lucy M. Dahill, Natalie M., V Morrison, Haider Mannan, Deborah Mitchison, Stephen Touyz, Kay Bussey, Nora Trompeter, Phillipa Hay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Adolescence is a time of rapid emotional and physical development when foundational self-concepts (including beliefs about one’s weight and shape) are established. Parents are key influencers of adolescent beliefs and behaviours. This study aimed to investigate associations between perceived positive and negative parental comments on weight/shape and eating, with sons’ and daughters’ psychological distress and eating disorder cognitions (EDCs). Methods: A representative mixed-sex sample of 2204 Australian adolescents (12–19 years) from the EveryBODY Study completed an online survey exploring eating behaviours, psychological wellbeing and experiences of parental comments regarding weight, shape and eating behaviours. Results: Correlation analyses revealed that adolescents’ reports of perceived positive parental comments on shape/weight were significantly associated with lower psychological distress and EDCs only for daughters. All perceived negative parental comments on shape/weight or eating were associated with greater psychological distress and EDCs for both sons and daughters. In the final model of the regression analysis, only perceived parental negative shape/weight and maternal negative eating comments, adolescent stage and biological sex were significantly associated with EDCs. When known contributors such as BMI percentile and psychological distress were included in the regression model, adolescent stage and perceived negative paternal comments were no longer significantly associated with EDCs. Conclusions: Overall, results show perceived negative comments were associated with poorer adolescent mental health, both their specific EDCs and general distress. Findings highlight the importance of raising awareness of potential negative impacts within family systems of comments around weight/shape and eating in these key formative years. Trial Registration The study was approved by the Macquarie University Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC 5201600312) and the New South Wales Department of Education.

Original languageEnglish
Article number43
JournalJournal of Eating Disorders
Issue number1
Early online date24 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Mar 2022


  • Weight-related behaviours
  • Eating disorder
  • Body image concerns
  • Mental health
  • Psychological distress
  • Teenagers
  • Family
  • Teasing


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