Teasing by brothers blamed for girls dieting

TEASING by brothers may drive girls into adopting abnormal diets.

Psychologists who looked at groups of 11-year-old girls found that those who had so-called high-restraint diets were twice as likely to have brothers.

While it is often reported that mothers play a role in the weight and dieting of daughters, little research has been done on the influences of fathers and brothers. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that comments from male family members precipitate dieting, and teasing is associated with weight-control attempts in adolescence," says Greenwich University psychologist Jo Sullivan-Lyons, writing in The Psychologist.

Her report is based on findings from research at Leeds University. The research, by Andrew Hill and Julie Franklin, looked at how weight- control ideas were transmitted from mothers to daughters. It was thought that the mothers of young dieters would be more likely to be concerned with dieting and their own appearance.

But, said Dr Hill, who led the research: "It is notable that the high- restraint girls were twice as likely to have brothers than their low- restraint counterparts. Their contribution to the family climate of weight and shape dissatisfaction should not be overlooked, nor should that of fathers.

"We need to remember that families are more than mums and daughters and male members can play quite a pernicious role. There are case studies where people identify comments by other family members, brothers and fathers, as being the instigator for them trying to change their weight.

"Teasing may trigger a more intense weight control, but we don't know the extend of teasing within families and that is something we will now be looking at."

Ms Sullivan-Lyons says there is a need to get away from making mothers the scapegoats: "There is a lot of research on mother-daughter relationships, but we need to remember that the whole family is involved in these things. People with eating disorders are more likely to have male members of the family who make comments about their appearance and we know that high dietary restraint is an indicator of eating disorders. These are young girls who may go a whole day without food because they believe they have eaten too much."