Objective: Our purpose with this work was to examine the relationship between negative comments about weight, shape, and eating and social adjustment, social support, self-esteem, and perceived childhood abuse and neglect.
Methods: A retrospective study was conducted with 455 college women with high weight and shape concerns, who participated in an Internet-based eating disorder prevention program. Baseline assessments included: perceived family negative comments about weight, shape, and eating; social adjustment; social support; self-esteem; and childhood abuse and neglect. Participants identified 1 of 7 figures representing their maximum body size before age 18 and parental maximum body size.
Results: More than 80% of the sample reported some parental or sibling negative comments about their weight and shape or eating. Parental and sibling negative comments were positively associated with maximum childhood body size, larger reported paternal body size, and minority status. On subscales of emotional abuse and neglect, most participants scored above the median, and nearly one third scored above the 90th percentile. In a multivariate analysis, greater parental negative comments were directly related to higher reported emotional abuse and neglect. Maximum body size was also related to emotional neglect. Parental negative comments were associated with lower reported social support by family and lower self-esteem.
Conclusions: In college women with high weight and shape concerns, retrospective reports of negative comments about weight, shape, and eating were associated with higher scores on subscales of emotional abuse and neglect. This study provides additional evidence that family criticism results in long-lasting, negative effects.