Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Eating Disorders: Explanatory Variables in Caucasian and Hispanic College Women

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Eating Disorders: Explanatory Variables in Caucasian and Hispanic College Women

Article excerpt

The authors explored Hispanic and Caucasian college women's (N = 264) behavioral and attitudinal symptoms of eating disorders after controlling for body mass index and internalization of the thinness ideal, as well as the roles of ethnicity and ethnic identity in symptomatology. Correlational analysis, multivariate analysis of variance, and regression analysis suggested more similarities than differences between Hispanic and Caucasian college women in terms of eating disorders.

Keywords: eating disorders, racial/ethnic differences, ethnic identity


Examinations of eating disorders among women from the Caucasian majority ethnic group are ample; however, there is limited research with women from ethnic minority groups. For many years, researchers have assumed that eating disturbances occurred primarily in female Caucasian populations and did not include members of racial/ethnic minority groups in research studies (Cachelin, Veisel, Barzegarnazari, & Striegel-Moore, 2000). Eating disorders were coined the "White female phenomenon" (Mastria, 2002, p. 59), and racial minority group membership was considered a protective factor against the development of these disorders. However, perhaps underdiagnosis has occurred because of these beliefs.

Researchers who have compared prevalence of eating disorder symptoms among African American and Caucasian college women have consistently reported higher symptomatology among Caucasian participants (Abrams, Allen, & Gray, 1993; Petersons, Rojhani, Steinhaus, & Larkin, 2000). However, in studies that included Hispanic participants, researchers tended to report that there were more similarities than differences in terms of symptomatology between Hispanic and Caucasian college women (Franko, Becker, Thomas, & Herzog, 2007).

Not only the ethnic group that individuals belong to, but also how much they identify with their ethnic group, should be considered--that is, one's value of and attachment to ethnicity as part of one's sense of self (Phinney, 1992). Some researchers have proposed that compared to mainstream Caucasian American culture, ideals of beauty in African American and Hispanic cultures are more accepting of larger figures (Warren, Gleaves, Cepeda-Benito, Fernandez, & Rodriguez-Ruiz, 2005). It is possible that African American and Hispanic women who identify highly with their ethnic group are likely to adhere to these cultural ideals and not feel as pressured as Caucasian women to conform to Western societal ideals of thinness. In contrast, African Americans and Hispanics who do not identify highly with their ethnicity may be more likely to endorse Western values regarding beauty ideals and to exhibit eating disorder symptoms similar to their Caucasian counterparts (Petersons et al., 2000). In other words, high levels of ethnic identity may serve as a protective factor in relation to eating disorder symptoms.

In the United States, approximately 1% to 3% of women are diagnosed with an eating disorder (Tylka & Mezydlo-Subich, 2004). However, the number of young adult women who report engaging in unhealthy eating practices yet do not meet criteria for eating disorder diagnoses is considerably higher (Mintz & Betz, 1988). As members of the country's most ethnically diverse university, we had the opportunity to study whether college women from Hispanic and Caucasian ethnic groups differ in behavioral and attitudinal symptoms of eating disorders. The college population is highly relevant in this matter: According to Mintz and Betz (1988), 61% of college women indicated that they either occasionally or regularly used extreme measures to control their weight, such as fasting, appetite suppressants, diuretics, or purging after eating. Because, in previous research, body mass index (BMI) has emerged as a predictor of concerns with weight and eating, BMI was included in our analysis.

Assessment of Eating Disorder Symptoms

Eating disorder symptoms among normative populations such as college students are typically assessed with self-report measures that include items related to both behavioral and attitudinal symptoms. …

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