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Disordered eating in children is a major public health concern, as it is precursor to clinical eating disorders and obesity. However, little is known about the potential causes of child disordered eating. The current study examined marital conflict as a predictor of disordered eating in a sample of children aged 5–12 years, from the perspective of emotional security theory. Ninety five children and their parents in the Southeast United States participated in the study. We found that marital conflict was associated with higher levels of restrained eating, emotional eating and external eating behaviors controlling for demographics and parental feeding practices. Further, we examined the possible pathways between marital conflict and child disordered eating and found that marital conflict was related to greater child emotional insecurity about the family, which was associated with greater child anxiety, which were then related to disordered eating. In addition to serving as a secondary pathway linking emotional insecurity to child disordered eating, anxiety also significantly directly mediated the association between marital conflict and all three types of disordered eating: restrained eating, emotional eating and external eating in children. Next we examined if parental feeding practices (food monitoring, food restriction and parental pressure to eat) moderate the relation between marital conflict and child disordered eating. Parental pressure to eat was negatively associated with child disordered eating under higher marital conflict. The current study highlights the importance of marital conflict and child emotional security as precursors of child disordered eating.
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- Children Exposed to Marital Conflict Exhibit More Disordered Eating Behaviors: Child Emotional Insecurity and Anxiety as Mechanisms of Risk
Eric A. Haak
Lauren R. Gilbert
Peggy S. Keller
- Springer US