Racial Differences in Body Perception Can Affect Eating Disorders

By John Lavitt 07/18/14

A new study shows that race plays a significant part in the type of eating disorder one can have.

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Researchers have presented the initial results of a comparative study on body perception and differing ideals of beauty among races.

In a study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, both the rate and the type of eating disorders experienced turned out to have a racial component. The study provided a comparative analysis of perceptions of body weight, eating disorders, and binge-eating disorder among young African-American women as opposed to young Caucasian women.

While young Caucasian women were affected more by anorexia and bulimia, African-American women were more likely to be affected by binge eating disorder. According to past studies, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are up to six times more prevalent in white women than black women. The new study revealed a strong indication that racial preferences in regards to body perception may affect the incidence of eating disorders.

Dr. Simone Lauderdale, a psychiatry fellow and lead investigator of the study, illuminated the importance of the study. “Psychiatrists, as well as general practitioners, should really be aware of the role culturally bound body and image ideals may play in a patient's eating behaviors, specifically, with African Americans having higher rates of binge eating disorders nationally as compared to other eating disorders," she said.

Presented at the American Psychiatric Association's 2014 Annual Meeting in New York City, the study included 57 white women and 21 black women who were matched on age, weight, height, and education. Participants were assessed on their eating behaviors by the Questionnaire on Eating and Weight Patterns–Revised. Participant’s perception of body image and body satisfaction were assessed through the use of the Body Shape Questionnaire and Beauty Ideals and Body Image Questionnaire (BIQ). According to Dr. Lauderdale, “The BIQ was designed specifically for this study.”

Dr. Lauderdale explained her reasoning behind designing the new study tools when she explained how she "wanted to really see how differences in beauty ideals and body images may affect various people's eating behaviors and how ethnicity might play a role in body image and beauty ideals. ”

The clear results showed that white women were more likely to rate thinner figures as more attractive. Contrastingly, black women were more likely to rate heavier figures as more attractive. Lauderdale illuminated the results by explaining how “caucasians having a greater value for a thinner image may be related to the reporting of more eating disorders in this population, whereas African Americans value a heavier body type and report fewer eating disorders.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.