Food consumption, eating behaviour and self-esteem among single v. married and cohabiting mothers and their 12-year-old children

Kristina Elfhag, Finn Rasmussen
Public Health Nutrition 2008, 11 (9): 934-9

OBJECTIVE: Being a single mother may have implications for health behaviours that can also affect the child. More information about the food intakes and body weights in single v. married/cohabiting mothers and in their children is needed. Psychological dimensions of eating behaviour and self-esteem are also of relevance to explore for single mothers and their children.

DESIGN: Food style patterns were assessed by self-reported consumption of fruits, vegetables, sweets and soft drinks. Eating behaviour was measured by the Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire and self-esteem by the Harter self-perception scale. The participants were 1781 mothers and their 12-year-old children, of whom 278 mothers (16 %) were single.

RESULTS: Single mothers had lower intake of fruits and vegetables and lower self-worth compared to the married and cohabiting mothers, controlling for age, education and BMI. Although single mothers did not have a higher BMI, their daughters were heavier than girls from complete families. Daughters to single mothers furthermore had a higher intake of soft drinks, higher levels of restrained eating and lower self-worth. No such difference was found for the boys.

CONCLUSIONS: A lower sense of self-worth and lower intake of fruit and vegetables in single mothers could be seen in the context of the social disadvantages and less social support. Girls may be more inclined to be affected by family status than the boys, seen in a more unfortunate psychological pattern and a higher body weight. Boy's health behaviours may be more unaffected by living in single families.


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