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A new medical study links family teasing over weight and having unavailable parents to binge eating in kids. Kids who have parents who are not available physically or emotionally, and those who endure family teasing about their weight, have a higher risk of developing a binge eating disorder. The University of Illinois study also determined that race, income, and the weight of the parents did not have any impact on the eating patterns of the child. Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program scholar and human development and family studies doctoral researcher Jaclyn Saltzman explained “This study found that childhood binge eating is really associated with parents’ weight-related beliefs, but not their actual weight, and their emotional availability but not necessarily the income availability.”

Early recognition and treatment for childhood binge eating could prevent many problems in adulthood. Unavailable parents and/or family teasing over weight can leave psychological scars that can compound the eating disorder. According to Saltzman “Intervening early to address binge eating may not only help prevent an eating disorder from emerging but also prevent lifetime habits of unhealthy weight-related behaviors. Loss of control is something that researchers have used to describe binge eating in young children. The idea is that the size of the binge — the amount of food they eat — is less important than the feelings of being out of control or the stress about that eating behavior, especially in young kids, because they don’t have all that much control over the food that they have access to. Binge eating is feeling like you are not in control when you are eating. You are eating past the point of fullness and to the point of discomfort. You are experiencing a lot of emotional distress because of it.”

Saltzman continued by explaining “We want to emphasize to parents that weight isn’t the ‘be all end all,’ and that focusing on weight too much can be damaging. Instead, focusing on giving kids the tools they need to manage their emotions, particularly emotions around eating and weight, can help strengthen children’s coping skills so they are less likely to need binge eating.”