Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Similar but Different: Sociocultural Attitudes towards Appearance, Body Shape Dissatisfaction, and Weight Control Behaviors among Male and Female College Students

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Similar but Different: Sociocultural Attitudes towards Appearance, Body Shape Dissatisfaction, and Weight Control Behaviors among Male and Female College Students

Article excerpt


Background: Although females have a higher incidence of eating disorders than males, there is evidence that among college students both males and females are vulnerable to risk factors associated with eating disorders. Purpose: To explore the relationship between sociocultural attitudes towards appearance (SCATA), body shape (dis)satisfaction (BSD), and attempts to change body weight among male and female college students. Methods: Participants were undergraduates (n=224) attending a large southeastern university. A paper-pencil survey was completed that included demographic information, SATAQ-R, the Contour Drawing Rating Scale, and a single item assessing current attempts at changing body weight. Results: Logistic regression models revealed that factors related to current attempt to change body weight differed by gender. The two significant factors observed for males included Internalization of SCATA (OR=1.18) and BSD (OR=3.16). Significant factors for females included awareness of SCATA (OR=1.10) and BSD (OR=8.09). Discussion: Although both males and females exhibit SCATA and body shape dissatisfaction, the specific factors related to their current attempts to change body weight differed. Translation to Health Education Practice: College eating disorder prevention should be directed and tailored to all students regardless of gender. Specifically, primary and secondary prevention programs for males should be tailored to explore internalization of SCATA and body image.


Several studies have explored issues pertaining to eating disorders among college populations. (1-3) Research in relation to college females suggests that approximately 17% to 20% exhibit some form of eating disorder. (2,4) This number is consistent with research data on this population because it is more likely for younger females between the ages of 18 and 21 to develop eating disorders. (4) Although males generally have a lower incidence of eating disorders than females, there is evidence that male and female college students are both vulnerable to disordered eating behaviors (e.g. caloric restriction, selective food restriction, laxative/diuretic misuse, etc). (2,5) One study observed 10% of males and 20% of females exhibiting disordered eating behaviors. (2) This large proportion of males may suggest that the college male population may be more affected by eating disorders than presumed. (2)

Risk factors associated with eating disorders and associated disordered eating behaviors are body shape dissatisfaction and internalization of the "body ideal." (6,7) College females tend to exhibit more body dissatisfaction (i.e., a greater discrepancy between current body and ideal body) than their male counterparts. (8, 9) Although, generally speaking, college males tend to be satisfied with their bodies, previous research observed dissatisfaction among males in terms of their chest, upper arms, and abdomen. (8) This observed dissatisfaction may indicate a desire among male college students to attain what they perceive as the "ideal" muscular male body. (8, 10)

Sociocultural attitudes towards appearance (SCATA) may increase the risk for body shape dissatisfaction and subsequent eating disorders. (11-13) Two main components of SCATA are Awareness and Internalization. (12) Awareness refers to "the extent to which an individual is aware of the importance placed on appearance and thinness in Western culture;" whereas, Internalization refers to the extent to which an individual "internalizes these values by endorsing and desiring to emulate appearance-related social standards." (13) Moreover, internalization of the thin body ideal has been identified as a primary risk factor for the development of body dissatisfaction, negative body image, as well as predicting dieting, the onset of binge eating, and bulimic symptoms. (11, 14, 15) Stark-Wroblewski and colleagues observed internalization accounting for 9% of the variance in disordered eating scores beyond that explained by awareness; thus, supporting the idea that internalization is an important factor in disordered eating beyond just awareness of current Western ideals. …

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