Eating Disorders in Diverse Cultures

Eating disorders do not just affect white, upper-class women. There is still much to learn about how eating disorders affect individuals of all races and further research must be conducted to ensure that our efforts to combat these illnesses are inclusive of all women and men.

  • Over the past few years, there has been increasing evidence of disordered eating occurring among racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. Contrary to the persistent belief that eating disorders affect only young, white women, analysis of the Minnesota Adolescent Health Study found that dieting was associated with weight dissatisfaction, perceived overweight, and low body pride in all ethnic groups (Story et al, 1997).
  • Similarly, a study conducted by Robinson et al (1996), found that among the leanest 25% of 6th and 7th grade girls, Hispanics and Asians reported significantly more body dissatisfaction than did white girls. Lastly, in a survey of 6,504 adolescents, Asian, Black, Hispanic and Caucasian youth all reported attempting to lose weight at similar rates (32.7%, 31.9%, 36.1% and 34.9% respectively), while among Native American adolescents, 48.1% were attempting weight loss (Kilpatrick, Ohannessian, & Bartholomew, 1999).
  • Reports of eating disorders among women of color are on the rise. Some of this gain may simply reflect an increase in the reporting of these problems rather than actual increases. Three factors affect the rate of reporting among minority women: underreporting of problems by the individual, under and misdiagnosing on the part of the treatment provider, and cultural bias of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV criteria for eating disorders.
  • Sociocultural factors, including the pervasive media images that embrace a narrowly defined conception of beauty, may be particularly disturbing for some women. Hall (1995) notes that, "people furthest from the (dominant ideal of beauty), specifically women of color, may suffer the psychological effects of low self-esteem, poor body image, and eating disorders." Furthermore, Osvold & Sodowsky (1993) found that African-American and Native-American women who were more accepting of white American culture (acculturated) showed significantly more symptoms of anorexia and bulimia than did those who were less accepting.
Source: Adapted from National Eating Disorder Association, 2006: www.NationalEatingDisorders.org.