Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Eating Disorders in African American Girls: Implications for Counselors

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Eating Disorders in African American Girls: Implications for Counselors

Article excerpt

Eating disorders were once considered disorders that occurred most frequently among college-age, European American women of middle- and upper-class backgrounds (Smolak & Striegel-Moore, 2001; J. K. Thompson & Smolak, 2001). Recently, however, more attention has been directed toward children and their eating disorder prevalence rates (Bardick et al., 2004; Reijonen, Pratt, Patel, & Greydanus, 2003; Robinson, Chang, Haydel, & Killen, 2001; J. K. Thompson & Smolak, 2001). In fact, it is estimated that girls as young as 9 years experience body dissatisfaction and dieting behaviors, which are two major risk factors associated with anorexia and bulimia (Reijonen et al., 2003; Robinson et al., 2001; J. K. Thompson & Smolak, 2001; S. H. Thompson, Rafiroiu, & Sargent, 2003). Moreover, prevalence rates for obesity in children and adolescents have increased significantly in recent years, with African American and Latino American children exhibiting significantly higher rates in comparison with their European American counterparts (Dounchis, Hayden, & Wilfley, 2001; Thorpe et al., 2004).

Despite the recent focus on eating disorders in school-age youth, empirical evidence of eating disorders among children of color is lacking, with only a few studies emphasizing risks for this population. Furthermore, potential risk factors in the development of eating disorders may be different for children of color than for European American children (Dounchis et al., 2001; Smolak & Striegel-Moore, 2001). For example, children of color may experience additional contextual stressors (e.g., acculturation and racism) that are unique to their socialization experiences as racial and ethnic minorities (Dounchis et al., 2001; Logio, 2003). Given the prevalence of obesity in ethnically diverse children, it is imperative that counselors consider eating concerns that affect children of all racial and ethnic groups and hence are effective in working with this population. Furthermore, because eating disorder attitudes and behaviors can have serious short- and long-term academic, physical, and psychosocial consequences, the development of community and school-based programs focused on the prevention of eating disorders in children is essential (Bardick et al., 2004; Moreno & Thelen, 1993; Robinson et al., 2001; Rome et al., 2003; Thorpe et al., 2004).

The purpose of this article is to outline risk factors that potentially contribute to eating disorder symptoms in African American girls and to provide recommendations for counselors on the prevention and identification of eating disorders in African American girls. First, risk factors related to the development of eating disorders in African American girls are provided. Second, implications for counselors are discussed. Finally, the need to develop culturally responsive prevention programs is discussed. Although this article focuses on risk factors specific to the socialization experiences of African American girls, these risk factors can be applied to other girls who identify with oppressed racial or cultural groups.

Risk Factors for African American Girls

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.; American Psychiatric Association, 2000), anorexia is characterized by a person's refusal to maintain her or his body weight through use of excessive dieting and inaccurate perceptions of her or his body image on the basis of an obsessive fear of becoming fat. Bulimia is characterized by a person's excessive rapid bingeing followed by purging through use of self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or diuretics, restrained eating, or excessive exercise. Binge-eating disorder is described by recurrent episodes of binge eating that occur in the absence of regular use of compensatory behaviors such as purging (Striegel-Moore et al., 2005) and is often associated with obesity. Obesity is defined by having a body mass index of 30 or greater and/or weighing more than 20% above the upper limit for one's height (Davis, Clance, & Gailis, 1999). …

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