How do parents of adolescent patients with anorexia nervosa interact with their child at mealtimes? A study of parental strategies used in the family meal session of family-based treatment

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To examine the range and frequency of parental mealtime strategies used during the family meal session of Family-Based Treatment (FBT) for adolescent anorexia nervosa, and to explore the relationships between parental mealtime strategies, mealtime emotional tone and parental ‘success’ at encouraging adolescent food consumption.


Participants were 21 families with a child aged between 12 and 18 years receiving FBT for adolescent anorexia nervosa. Video recordings of the family meal session (FBT session two) were coded using the Family Mealtime Coding System adapted in this study for use with adolescents (FMCS-A) to identify frequency of parental strategies, emotional tone of the meal (measured by adolescent positive and negative vocalisations) and frequency of prompted mouthfuls consumed by the adolescent (measured by the number of mouthfuls consumed by the adolescent immediately following parental interactions).


A range of parental mealtime strategies were in use. Those used repeatedly included direct eating prompts, non-direct eating prompts, physical prompts, and providing information or food-related choices. Several parental mealtime strategies (direct and non-direct eating prompts) were found to be consistently associated with the tone of adolescents' vocalisations and the number of mouthfuls consumed in response to a parental prompt.


Despite associations with negativity from the adolescent, the use of food-related prompts (both verbal and physical) seems to be associated with increased eating. This indicates the potentially important role of parental control of eating. Following replication, these findings might provide a focus for therapists when supporting and coaching parents during the family meal session. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 2014 (Int J Eat Disord 2015; 48:72–80)

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