Family climates: Family factors specific to disturbed eating and bulimia nervosa
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More than a decade of research has characterized the families of individuals with bulimia and bulimia anorexia (Anorexia Nervosa, Binge/Purging Type) as less expressive, less cohesive, and experiencing more conflicts than normal control families. This two-part study investigated variables believed more directly related to disturbed eating and bulimia as contributing to a "family climate for eating disorders." In Study 1. a nonclinical sample of 324 women who had just left home for college and a sample of 121 mothers evaluated their families. Principal-components analyses revealed the same factor structure for both students and mothers, with Family Body Satisfaction, Family Social Appearance Orientation, and Family Achievement Emphasis loading together, representing the hypothesized family climate for eating disorders: the remaining variables loaded with the more traditional family process variables (conflict, cohesion, expressiveness), representing a more general family dysfunction. As predicted, the family climate for eating disorders factor score was a more powerful predictor of disturbed eating. Study 2 extended these findings into a clin ical population, examining whether the family climate for eating disorders variables would distinguish individuals with bulimia from both depressed and healthy controls. Groups of eating-disordered patients (n = 40) and depressed (n = 17) and healthy (n = 27) controls completed family measures. The eating-disordered group scored significantly higher on family climate variables than control groups. Family process variables distinguished clinical groups (depressed and eating disordered) from healthy controls, but not from one another. Controlling for depression removed group differences on family process variables, but family climate variables continued to distinguish the eating-disordered group from both control groups. Indications for further research are discussed.