Type of Document Dissertation Author Coccia, Catherine Camille URN etd-03312011-123831 Title Indulgent Parenting and the Life Satisfaction of College Students: An Examination of Eating, Weight, and Body Image Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Family and Child Sciences, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Carol Darling Committee Chair Ann Mullis Committee Member Penny Ralston Committee Member Thomas Joiner University Representative Keywords
- Satisfaction with life
- Mother-daughter relationships
- Family health discussions
- Eating motivations
- College students
Date of Defense 2011-03-17 Availability unrestricted AbstractThe concurrent rising rates of two societal concerns, rising rates of obesity along with increasing reports of parental indulgence, make it imperative to look at these issues in tandem. Not only has obesity become a national epidemic, but also weight gain has evolved as a serious issue for emerging adults and college students with long-lasting effects (Wang & Beydoun, 2007). This is especially salient in college women who have been experiencing weight gain at a substantially higher rate than age-matched community women (Holm-Denoma, Joiner, Heatherton, & Vohs, 2008; Hovell, Mewborn, Randle, & Fowler-Johnson, 1985). Additionally, in recent years, parents are spending more time with their children than ever before giving them more opportunities for indulgence to occur (Sayer, Bianchi, & Robinson, 2004). This indulgence may have several negative consequences including difficulty in delaying gratification and taking care of oneself that also may lead to issues with weight gain (Bredehoft, Mennicke, Potter, & Clarke, 1998). Despite the importance of this critical time in which independence and long-term health behaviors are being established, unhealthy weight regulation methods and body image concerns are prevalent among female college students. Disordered eating attitudes and beliefs can have serious psychological and physiological consequences affecting the body mass index (BMI) and body image of female students. In addition, maladaptive eating behaviors and low body image put individuals at higher risk for depression and low life satisfaction (Albertini & Phillips, 1999; Boyes, Fletcher, & Latner, 2007).
While exploring the relationship between rising rates of obesity and indulgent parenting, it is important to note the salient changing relationship between mothers and daughters as daughters transition to college. Health behaviors such as eating attitudes and beliefs have been noted in previous research to be similar among mothers and daughters (Elfhag & Linne, 2005). Little is known, however, how health attitudes and beliefs may correlate as the parents’ role in the child’s health behaviors begin to change. In addition, although it is known that as daughters transition to college, their mothers’ influence over their behaviors declines, there is not much literature describing how mother-daughter perceptions about their relationships and behaviors change over time (Fingerman, 2000). Thus, during this time of multiple changes, it is important to study mother-daughter perceptions of their relationship, as well as, health attitudes and beliefs in order to provide a greater understanding of daughters’ health behaviors and the occurrence of eating and weight-related problems.
The primary theory used in this study was Bandura’s social cognitive theory. In order to fully understand the mother-daughter relationship within the family-eating environment, the family ecological perspective was used as the secondary framework in this study. This study had two research aims: First to determine the differences between mother and daughter perceptions of indulgent parenting, frequency of health discussions, and their own internal eating motivations including cognitive restraint and uncontrolled eating. Three hypotheses were proposed:
1.There will be a difference between mothers’ and daughters’ perceptions of overall indulgent parenting, as well as the categories of indulgent parenting of giving too much, over-nurturing, and providing soft structure as measured by the overindulgence scale and each of its three subscales (Bredehoft et al., 2004). Daughters will report greater parental indulgence than their mothers.
2.There will be a difference between mothers’ and daughters’ internal eating motivation in terms of cognitive restraint and uncontrolled eating. Whereas, mothers will report higher levels of cognitive restraint than daughters, daughters will report higher uncontrolled eating scores.
3.There will be a difference between mothers’ and daughters’ reports of health discussion frequency. Mothers will report engaging in health discussions more frequently than daughters.
Secondly, the study aimed to examine the influence of indulgent parenting and family health discussions (as perceived by mothers and daughters) on internal (cognitive restraint and uncontrolled) eating motivations and external (significant others and peers) eating motivations upon the outcome variables of BMI, body image, and satisfaction with life while controlling for mother and daughter age.
Mother and daughter pairs were selected from the Parental Indulgence of Emerging Adults study. The study participants were recruited from a college-level course and the data collection took place as part of a class assignment. To be eligible for this IRB approved study, both the mother and daughter had to complete the online survey, although other options were available if students and their parents did not want to participate. The total sample consisted of 368 mother-daughter pairs.
Both mothers and daughters were asked to complete the questionnaire online. This questionnaire consisted of basic demographic questions, health behavior items, and several scales including the Parent Overindulgence Scale, to measure indulgent parenting, the Family Discussions about Health Scale, to measure frequency of family health discussions, the Cognitive Restraint Scale and Uncontrolled Eating Scale, to measure internal eating motivations, the Relationship and Friend Driven Eating Scales to measure external eating motivations and the Satisfaction with Life Scale to determine daughters’ satisfaction with life.
In order to test the research hypotheses and questions, various statistical analysis techniques were utilized. The following data analysis plan was employed: For the three hypotheses, paired t-tests were incorporated along with other descriptive data analysis techniques, such as frequency distributions, means, ranges, and standard deviations. To examine the research question, SEM using AMOS 17.0 software was utilized (Arbuckle, 2006).
Paired t-tests were conducted to test the associations between mothers’ and daughters’ perceptions of indulgent parenting, internal eating motivations, and health discussion frequency. Mothers and daughters had significantly different scores for both overall indulgence and over-nurturance with daughters having higher perceptions than mothers, that mothers were indulging and over-nurturing them. No differences were found for giving too much or soft structure. Both cognitive restraint and uncontrolled eating were significantly different, with maternal data indicating higher cognitive restraint scores and daughter data noting higher uncontrolled eating scores. Pearson’s correlations indicated that mothers’ cognitive restraint was significantly correlated with daughters’ cognitive restraint. Mothers’ uncontrolled eating was also significantly related to daughters’ cognitive restraint. Daughters’ uncontrolled eating was not related to either cognitive restraint or uncontrolled eating in mothers. In addition, it was revealed that parents perceived they engaged in more health discussions than their daughters. Further analysis indicated that daughters’ weight loss goals influenced their perceived frequency of health discussions, whereas mothers’ overall perceptions of health discussion frequency remained the same despite daughters’ weight goals.
To examine the research question, a measurement model described the proposed correlation model. Fit indices of the measurement model were: chi-square statistic = 20.57, degree of freedom = 12, CFI = 0.989, TLI = 0.891, and RMSEA = 0.044. Due to the good model fit of the measurement model, further analyses could be completed to test the structural model. Modifications indices were used to further refine the model. The chi-square statistic for this model was 96.80 with 63 degrees of freedom. Again CFI, TLI, and RMSEA were evaluated: CFI = .957, TLI = .918, and RMSEA = .038. This model explained 20.7% of the variance in satisfaction with life of college age daughters.
Daughters’ perceptions of the three subscales of parents’ indulgent parenting all had direct relationships with satisfaction with life in the model, in that both giving too much and over-nurturance had positive relationships with satisfaction with life, whereas, daughters’ perceptions of soft structure were inversely related to daughters’ life satisfaction. In other words, daughters, who believed that their parents gave them too many things, over-nurtured them, and provided them with structure in their lives, perceived greater satisfaction with their lives. The satisfaction with life of daughters was also directly related to their age, body image, and uncontrolled eating. Whereas having a higher body image was positively related to satisfaction with life, uncontrolled eating, and becoming older were inversely related with life satisfaction.
Other important findings were related to body image and internal eating motivations. Several variables in the model had relationships with body image, making it a pivotal variable in the model. Parent age, daughters’ BMI, and both internal eating motivations (cognitive restraint and uncontrolled eating) were inversely related to body image. Friendship influence on eating motivations had a direct positive relationship with body image. Daughters who perceived their friends influenced their eating behaviors also had higher perceptions of their body image. Parent health discussions were inversely related to daughters’ cognitive restraint when eating. The more mothers and daughters talked about health issues, daughters exhibited greater cognitive restraint.
These findings confirmed the appropriateness of both social cognitive theory and ecosystemic frameworks for studying parenting, communication, eating motivations, and health outcomes in mothers and daughters. Mothers and daughters reported significantly different levels of cognitive restraint and uncontrolled eating, with mothers exhibiting higher levels of cognitive restraint and daughters exhibiting higher levels of uncontrolled eating. Further analysis noted that mother and daughter cognitive restraint variables were significantly correlated, as were daughters’ cognitive restraint and mothers’ uncontrolled eating. These results indicated that parental modeling might be one mechanism through which daughters learned their internal eating patterns. Mothers and daughters perceived the frequency in which they engaged in health behaviors differently, with mothers reporting higher discussion frequencies than daughters. Daughters’ weight goals were found to influence their perceptions regarding frequency of health discussions indicating that daughters trying to lose weight may be more sensitive to health discussions particularly around dieting and weight loss.
The model indicated that greater life satisfaction was related to higher levels of daughters’ perceptions of their parents giving them too much and over-nurturing them, as well as, high body image, lower levels of uncontrolled eating, and being younger. Health discussions played an important role with the giving too much construct of indulgent parenting interacting with health discussion frequency to influence both daughters’ internal eating motivations and BMI. Daughters’ perceptions of indulgence had a greater influence on the overall model than parents’ perceptions. This stresses the importance of the daughters’ perspectives when examining these variables. Also in the model, friendship influence on eating was positively related to daughters’ body image. Daughters may feel that if they conform to the group, they will be more likeable and accepted, thus increasing their perceived body image. In addition, health discussions were related to daughters’ cognitive restraint. It is unknown, in this study, whether discussions about health between mothers and daughters were positive or negative, however daughters who were trying to lose weight reported higher frequencies of health discussions.
Several implications for future research and professional practice are indicated. As was noted in this study, the sample was predominantly white and only mothers and daughters were included, partially due to the small sample of fathers and sons available in the sample set. More studies need to be done in children and adolescents to examine how their perceptions of their parents’ parenting styles influence their health and eating behaviors. Therefore, this study should be replicated using diverse samples. The model utilized in this study provides a starting point for family therapists, family life educators, as well as health professionals such as dietitians and nurses, to guide family life and health education programs for parents and college students. It is important to teach parents about the implications of parental indulgence on the health and life satisfaction of their children. Additionally, health and lifestyle education for emerging adults is essential and can help them attain healthy lifestyle behaviors that will affect them long into the future. Overall, the results of this study indicated that even as daughters begin to transition away from their parents, mothers still play an integral role in their daughters’ health behaviors and outcomes.
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