Impact of eating disorders on family life: individual parents' stories

J Clin Nurs. 2006 Aug;15(8):1016-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2006.01367.x.


Aims and objectives: The aim of this study was to consider the impact that an eating disorder had on the family, particularly the parents. The objective was to give a voice to parents in order to develop new understandings of their experience leading to more appropriate clinical decision-making.

Background: The impact of an eating disorder on family life has not been well-documented in the published literature. There are numerous articles from the sufferer's perspective and treatment modalities. The following paper describes a component of a larger study that explored the parent's perspective of having a child with an eating disorder.

Design: Nineteen mothers and three fathers from Sydney, Australia, volunteered to be interviewed as the result of advertisements placed in parent support organization newsletters and by using the snowballing technique.

Methods: A qualitative approach using semi-structured interviews was used to explore parents' experiences of having a child/adult child with an eating disorder. Themes were identified through in depth analysis.

Results: Themes that were extrapolated from this research included, family unification or disintegration, parent's inability to cope, inconsiderate comments from significant others, social isolation and financial impacts.

Conclusions: This study reports five overarching effects on family life. The authors conclude that one way in which the life of parents and families could be improved would be increased involvement and integration into the treatment process. For this to happen, health professionals would need to acknowledge the family as a resource.

Relevance to clinical practice: This research documents the family struggle and highlights the current omissions concerning the family's role. The need for changes to clinical practice is substantiated. It requires health professionals to scrutinize their own clinical practice and consider modification of the treatment process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Cost of Illness
  • Family Health*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / prevention & control
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Friends / psychology
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Helping Behavior
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Narration
  • New South Wales
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life
  • Self-Help Groups
  • Social Isolation
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires