Anorexic Eating Attitudes and Behaviors of Male and Female College Students

By Nelson, Wendy L.; Hughes, Honore M. et al. | Adolescence, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview
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Anorexic Eating Attitudes and Behaviors of Male and Female College Students


Nelson, Wendy L., Hughes, Honore M., Katz, Barry, Searight, H. Russell, Adolescence


ABSTRACT

This study examined gender differences in eating attitudes and behaviors in a sample of 471 undergraduate college students. The prevalence of symptomatology indicative of anorexia was determined using the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26). In addition, the family climate, parent-child dynamics, and self-concept of students with and without maladaptive eating attitudes and behaviors were compared, and the relationship between eating attitudes/behaviors and current psychological distress was examined. Anorexic symptomatology was found for 20% of the females and 10% of the males. In general, students without symptomatic attitudes and behaviors had a more positive self-concept and reported less psychological distress than did those with eating disturbances. The findings suggest that eating problems may be more prevalent among males than previously estimated.

It is generally agreed that eating disorders among adolescent and young adult females are on the rise in the U.S. and other westernized nations (Mitchell & Eckert, 1987; Shisslak, Crago, Neal, & Swain, 1987). Prevalence studies of eating disorders among high school and college students (Crisp, Palmer, & Kalucy, 1976; Kurtzman, Yager, Landsverk, Wiesmeier, & Bodurka, 1989; Pope, Hudson, Yurgelun Todd, & Hudson, 1984; Smead & Richert, 1990; Stangler, & Printz, 1980) and incidence studies of anorexia nervosa (Kendell, Hall, Hailey, & Babigian, 1973; Willi & Grossman, 1983) have lent support to this contention. Vandereycken and Meerman (1984), reviewing epidemiologic studies of anorexia nervosa conducted in the U.S., Europe, and South Africa, concluded that regardless of differences in methodology, diagnostic criteria, and sample composition, findings support the notion that eating disorders have reached epidemic proportions, at least among certain groups of female adolescents.

Intrapsychic conflict (Bruch, 1962, 1978; Swift & Stern, 1983), self deficits (Geist, 1989), family dynamics (Minuchin, Rosman, & Baker, 1978;

Selvini-Palazzoli & Viaro, 1988; Strober & Humphrey, 1987), sociocultural norms (Nasser, 1988; Orbach, 1985; Schwartz, Thompson, & Johnson, 1982), sexual trauma (Calam & Slade, 1989; Connors & Morse, 1993; Sloan & Leichner, 1986), and biological and genetic factors (Morley & Blundell, 1988; Scott, 1986) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of anorexia nervosa. Thompson and Schwartz (1982) observed a positive linear relationship between psychiatric disturbance, as measured by the Symptom Checklist 90, and level of eating disturbance. It should be noted that while anorexia nervosa among males has not been entirely ignored (Andersen, 1990; Bruch, 1973; Fichter & Daser, 1987; Fichter, Daser, & Postpischil, 1985; Herzog, Bradburn, & Newman, 1990), the vast majority of the literature deals with females.

The present study examined gender differences in eating attitudes and behaviors in a college population. The goals were to document the prevalence of symptoms indicative of anorexia; to compare the family climate, parent-child dynamics, and self-concept of students with and without maladaptive eating attitudes and behaviors; and to examine the relationship between eating attitudes/behaviors and present psychological distress.

METHOD

Subjects

Four hundred seventy-one students (333 females and 138 males) were recruited from undergraduate psychology classes at two Midwestern liberal arts colleges located in the same metropolitan area. Participants ranged in age from 17 to 24 years. Eighty-three percent of the females and 77% of the males were white (non-Hispanic). Fifty-seven percent of the females and 68% of the males identified themselves as Catholic, 29% of the females and 17% of the males belonged to another Christian denomination, and the remainder indicated that they had another or no religious affiliation.

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