Toward Reducing Risk for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Latina College Women

Article excerpt

Body dissatisfaction, unhealthy weight loss practices, and disordered eating behaviors occur frequently among women and can adversely influence physiological, psychological, and behavioral functioning (Hill, 2002). Although only a small percentage of women (1%-3%) have diagnosable eating disorders, many are at risk to develop an eating disorder during the college years. Mintz, O'Halloran, Mulholland, and Schneider-Paxton (1997) found that of 1,400 predominantly 1st-year female students, 4% had an eating disorder and 19% were at risk to develop an eating disorder. Young women who reported having dieted have been found to be 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than nondieters (Patton, Selzer, Coffey, Carlin, & Wolfe, 1999), and, in a study of first-year female college students, 15% of those deemed to be at risk to develop an eating disorder in the fall semester moved into the "probable bulimia" category by the spring semester (Drewnowski, Kurth, & Krahn, 1994).

Data gathered over the last 2 decades have demonstrated that eating disorders are diagnosed in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and that some ethnic minority groups may be especially vulnerable (A. E. Becker, Franko, Speck, & Herzog, 2003; Franko, Becker, Thomas, & Herzog, 2007; Marques et al., 2011; Talleyrand, 2010). Body dissatisfaction is a particularly potent risk factor for the development of eating disorders (Stice & Shaw, 2002) and is commonly experienced among minority women (Grabe & Hyde, 2006). On the basis of recent evidence, one group at particular risk to develop eating disorders is Latina women (Gordon, Castro, Sitnikov, & Holm-Denoma, 2010). For example, Alegria et al. (2007) analyzed data from the National Latino and Asian American Study (comprised of Latinas/Latinos ages 18 and older living in the United States) and found an estimated lifetime prevalence of 0.08% for anorexia nervosa, 1.61% for bulimia nervosa, 1.92% for binge eating disorder, and 5.61% for any binge eating. Recent analyses found the rates for bulimia to be significantly higher in Latina women than in Caucasian women (Marques et al., 2011).

Data from strictly college student samples provide a similar picture. In a study of over 9,000 college students, A. E. Becker et al. (2003) found that Native American and Latina women reported the most severe eating disturbances but were the least likely to be referred for evaluation. In a recent study, Reyes-Rodriguez et al. (2010) documented that over 3% of 1st-year college students in Puerto Rico reported symptoms associated with bulimia, and nearly 10% exceeded the clinical cutoff point indicating the likelihood of an eating disorder diagnosis. Evidence indicates that a significant proportion of Latina women are at risk for body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, and eating disorders. Although a number of eating disorder prevention programs have been evaluated (Stice, Shaw, & Nathan, 2007), a surprisingly small number have been designed specifically for college students (C. B. Becker, Ciao, & Smith, 2008; Franko et al., 2005; Stice & Ragan, 2002; Taylor et al., 2006), and even fewer have focused on minority samples (Franko & George, 2008; Rodriguez, Marchand, Ng, & Stice, 2008). Given the high rates of disordered eating in Latina women, the first aim of the current study was to use an eating disorder prevention program to decrease body dissatisfaction in Latina college women.

Although eating disorders are a concern for Latina women, perhaps an even greater health threat comes from obesity, which is common in this group. Epidemiologic data have indicated that obesity rates for non-Hispanic Black and Mexican American women are higher than for their non-Hispanic White counterparts (Flegal, Margaret, Ogden, & Curtin, 2010). A study of over 4,000 undergraduate students found that 30 of the 125 Hispanic students (24%) reported a body mass index (BMI) over 25, which falls in the overweight or obese range (Desai, Miller, Staples, & Bravender, 2008). …