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The role of high-quality friendships in female adolescents’ eating pathology and body dissatisfaction

Abstract

Purpose

Peers may serve as risk factors for body dissatisfaction and eating pathology through two possible routes: (1) promoting body dissatisfaction through appearance-related interactions (e.g. weight-teasing); (2) a non-specific social support route whereby poor quality peer relations result in depression and consequently eating pathology. The second route has received little attention and, therefore, was the focus of this study.

Methods

A cross-sectional study in which 216 adolescent girls (aged 13–16 years) completed self-report measures of positive and negative friendship qualities, friendship functions, eating pathology, body dissatisfaction and depression.

Results

Those reporting poorer quality friendships tended to show greater eating pathology and greater body dissatisfaction. These associations were reduced to non-significance when covarying depression. There was no evidence that the role of friendships was moderated by the extent to which participants valued close relations.

Conclusions

Low-quality friendships are associated with disordered eating and may be suitable targets for prevention.

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Acknowledgments

This article presents independent research commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research scheme (RP-PG-0606-1043). The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. This work was supported by a grant from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Helen Sharpe.

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Sharpe, H., Schober, I., Treasure, J. et al. The role of high-quality friendships in female adolescents’ eating pathology and body dissatisfaction. Eat Weight Disord 19, 159–168 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-014-0113-8

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Keywords

  • Disordered eating
  • Body dissatisfaction
  • Risk factor
  • Friendship
  • Peer