The Children of Mothers with Eating Disorders

  • Priti Patel
  • Rebecca Wheatcroft
  • Rebecca J. Park
  • Alan Stein


There is good evidence that children of parents with psychological disorders are themselves at increased risk of disturbances in their development. Although there has been considerable research on a variety of disorders such as depression and alcohol, research on the children of parents with eating disorders has been relatively recent. This paper aims to review the evidence and covers a number of areas, including genetic factors, pregnancy, the perinatal and postpartum period, infancy, and the early years of life, focusing on feeding and mealtimes, general parenting functions, and growth. This is followed by a consideration of psychopathology in the children, parental attitudes to children's weight and shape, and adolescence. What is clear is that although there are numerous case reports and case series, the number of systematic controlled studies is relatively small, and almost nothing has been written about the children of fathers with eating disorders. What is evident from the available evidence is that children of mothers with eating disorders are at increased risk of disturbance, but that the risk depends on a variety of factors, and that difficulties in the children are far from invariable. The paper concludes by summarizing five broad categories of putative mechanisms, based on the evidence to date, by which eating disturbance in parents can influence child development.

eating disorder intergenerational transmission feeding body shape growth 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Priti Patel
    • 1
  • Rebecca Wheatcroft
    • 2
  • Rebecca J. Park
    • 3
  • Alan Stein
    • 4
  1. 1.Tavistock CentreLondon
  2. 2.Leopold Muller Department of Child and Family Mental HealthRoyal Free and University College Medical SchoolLondon
  3. 3.Developmental Psychiatry Section, Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Cambridge, Cambridge. Bedford and Luton Community NHS TrustCambridge
  4. 4.Section of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Warneford HospitalUniversity of OxfordOxford

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