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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Essay on Culture and Eating Disorder

A multitude of factors may exert influence on a person’s dietary patterns and eating behavior.  This may include social, cultural and even economic factors.  Of all these factors, the impact of culture on eating behavior and eating disorder has been the subject of many studies.  The theory is that culture is one of the more important factors that affect a person’s eating behavior and even eating disorder.  Research, however, is scarce on just how culture impacts a person’s eating behavior.  This essay seeks to examine the impact of culture in the development of eating disorder.  The objective is to prove that while cultural groups are susceptible to developing eating disorders, there are cultural groups which share similar values and attitudes that give them certain degree of protection against eating disorders.

Traditional Understanding of Eating Behavior and Development of Eating Disorder
Traditionally, eating behavior, body image perceptions eating disorders were believed to exist exclusively as part of the Western culture, particularly among white upper class women (Bridgette Sloan, p.3).  Since Western culture values thinness in body appearance, dieting has become a $50 billion industry in the United States.  Companies advertising their products have used thinness as a symbolism for self-discipline, control, sexual liberation, assertiveness, competitiveness and even relationship with the social elite.  As a result of this preoccupation with thinness, dieting and in extreme cases, eating disorders have become the norm and a socially accepted behavior in the West. 

Since eating disorder is common in Western countries, most research were focused on white women and treatment was also exclusive for white women.  To a certain extent, the susceptibility to eating disorders of people other than those in Western countries has not been given much attention (Kathy Bunch, 2001, p.1).  Many people think that African-Americans, Latinos, or Asians are not susceptible to eating disorder.  

Recently, however, some researchers argue that eating behavior and eating disorder are not problems exclusive to any particular culture.  In fact, there are findings which say that different cultural groups and ethnic minorities residing in the United States exhibit a pattern of eating behavior and eating disorder.  These researchers have realized that disturbed eating behaviors and attitudes are not restricted to white middle class women but even to ethnic minorities in the United States.  According to recent epidemiological studies, obesity is now becoming more common among African-American and Latina women than white women (Lisa Sanchez-Johnsen, Maureen Dymek and John Alverdy, 2003, p.1).  Others conclude that boys and girls of all ethnic groups are susceptible to eating disorders, to wit:

Girls and boys from all ethnic and racial groups may suffer from eating disorders and disordered eating. The specific nature of the most common eating problems, as well as risk and protective factors, may vary from group to group but no population is exempt. Research findings regarding prevalence rates and specific types of problems among particular groups are limited, but it is evident that disturbed eating behaviors and attitudes occur across all cultures. (“At Risk: All Ethnic and Racial Groups,” 2004, p.1).

Research material on the impact of culture on eating behavior and eating disorder among different groups residing in the US is scarce.  Moreover, there is a more limited resource material for dietary patterns among cultural groups living outside the United States.  The conclusion of some research materials are even conflicting as some conclude that maladaptive eating behavior appear to be less among individuals living outside the United States.  On the other hand, there are some who conclude that eating disorders are becoming more widespread in Spain, South Africa, Mexico, India, China, Hongkong, Singapore, Thailand and Japan.  The conflicting conclusions suggest that more research must be done to arrive at a consensus on the impact of culture on a society’s eating behavior and eating disorder. 

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