The Healthy Image Partnership (HIP) Parents Program: the role of parental involvement in eating disorder prevention
Afflicting 16% of adolescent girls, threshold or subthreshold bulimia nervosa is one of the most common psychiatric problems facing this population. Research suggests that an adolescent’s body image and dieting behaviors are closely related to those of her parents. Guided by the literature on the inclusion of parents in drug use and obesity prevention programs, the current study assessed the impact of educating parents as mental health agents in the pursuit of reducing the perceived sociocultural pressure to be thin, thin-ideal internalization, body dissatisfaction, dieting behaviors, negative affect and bulimic pathology of their adolescent daughters and improving parent-daughter communication. 81 parents of middle school girls with body image concerns were randomly assigned to either the Healthy Image Partnership (HIP) Parents Program or to a measurement-only waitlist condition. Parents assigned to the HIP Parents Program attended three weekly 90-minute workshops designed to facilitate; a) greater differentiation of the thin-ideal and the healthy-ideal; b) increased understanding of the ways parents communicate the thin-ideal to their daughters and; c) alternatives to these interactions and discourses, so as to help these parents to help their daughters improve their body image. The findings provided evidence that the HIP Parents Program reduced parent participants’ thin-ideal internalization, body dissatisfaction and dieting behaviors as compared to the waitlist condition, with the first two of these reductions persisting at the 3-month follow-up assessment point. Results also indicated that daughter participants evidenced significant reductions in thin-ideal internalization, dieting behaviors and bulimic symptoms, though these effects did not reach significance across condition. Findings suggest that this intervention did not significantly improve communication between parents and daughters nor did it decrease negative affect among participants. Parents participating in the HIP Parents Program did report significant reductions in applied pressure to be thin, though these reductions did not reach significance across condition. Contrary to hypotheses, daughters of these participants did not report reductions in perceived pressure to be thin. The significant yet modest results of this three-session workshop represent a much needed first step in the direction of providing wrap-around programs for the prevention of eating disorders in adolescent females.