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Eating disorder symptoms shown to be reduced in those with strong family identification

People with eating disorders who identify strongly with their family are more likely to have fewer and less severe symptoms due to a reduction in loneliness, according to research by psychologists at Nottingham Trent University, the Australian National University, and University College Cork, Ireland.

People holding hands in a circle
The research explores the impact that family identification can have on the severity of eating disorder symptoms

Across two studies, more than three hundred people who identified as having an eating disorder were questioned on their family identification, loneliness and eating disorder symptom severity.

The larger of the two studies focused on the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns, where participants were also measured on their anxiety and the impact of the pandemic in relation to their eating disorder.

At the start of Covid restrictions, findings showed that people with eating disorders were worried about things like access to foods that formed their meal plans, limitations on exercise and loss of support from groups and health services. Their levels of loneliness, anxiety and eating disorder symptom severity were all seen to be extremely elevated.

However, across all ages, genders and diagnoses, people with eating disorders who identified strongly with their family felt less lonely, had fewer symptoms such as negative eating-related thoughts and behaviours, felt less anxious and felt less impact of the Covid restrictions.

Dr Juliet Wakefield, senior lecturer in Psychology at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “Across our studies we found that family identification was associated with reductions in eating disorder symptom severity in general, as well as in anxiety during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was due to the decrease in loneliness which, in the second study, predicted a reduction in fears of the eating disorder-related impact of social distancing measures.”

The research examines the topic through the lens of a Social Identity Approach to Health (SIAH), which argues that identifying with, or feeling a subjective sense of belonging to, a social group unlocks health-enhancing psychological resources such as social support.

Associate Professor of Social Psychology and research programme lead, Dr Niamh McNamara, added: “By applying the SIAH, our study shows that these health benefits occur due to family identification predicting reductions in loneliness. The results support the idea that families are an important social recovery resource for people with eating disorders and help us understand why increased connection during the Covid-19 pandemic may have benefitted them.

“This suggests that families should be considered as an important social recovery resource and should be included in the treatment of adult eating disorders, including family-based interventions that target repairing or building of family identification and a collaborative approach to tackling loneliness.”

Read the full paper The link between family identification, loneliness, and symptom severity in people with eating disorders in the Journal of Community and Applied Psychology.

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    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    NTU was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards). It was the University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is one of the UK’s largest universities, with over 33,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 4,000 and an NTU community representing around 160 countries.

    In the past 15 years, NTU has invested £450 million in tools, technology and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2019 UCAS UG acceptance data) It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    75% of NTU students go on to graduate-level employment or graduate-entry education / training within fifteen months of graduating (Guardian University Guide 2021).

    NTU is 4th globally (and 3rd in the UK) for sustainability in the 2021 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Eating disorder symptoms shown to be reduced in those with strong family identification

Published on 1 March 2022
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences

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