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Eating Disorders: Cultural and Social Factors - Topic Overview

Eating disorders occur most often in industrialized cultures where there is an emphasis on thinness, especially if thinness is linked to success. Magazines, television, and other media have created an unrealistic image of the perfect, successful person. The pressure to be thin can lead to intense dieting, even in very young children, which can turn into an eating disorder in people who are more likely (predisposed) to get the disorders.

Professions and sports that require a certain body type may also indirectly encourage eating disorders. Ballet, gymnastics, modeling, acting, running, figure skating, swimming, jockeying, and wrestling often emphasize or require a thin, lean body.

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Signs of an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are a group of conditions marked by an unhealthy relationship with food. There are three main types of eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa. This is characterized by weight loss often due to excessive dieting and exercise, sometimes to the point of starvation. Someone with anorexia can never be thin enough and continues to see herself as “fat” despite extreme weight loss. Bulimia nervosa. The condition is marked by cycles of extreme overeating, known as bingeing, followed...

Read the Signs of an Eating Disorder article > >

Certain family attitudes or dynamics may contribute to the risk of a child or teen developing an eating disorder. The risk for eating disorders may be higher in families that:

  • Focus on high achievement.
  • Emphasize being perfect.
  • Are concerned about appearance.
  • Worry about being socially accepted.
  • Are concerned about physical fitness, including parents' own body weight and that of the child (or children).
  • Are overprotective or too involved in their teen's life.

Young people who develop eating disorders often have a close but troubled relationship with their parents. Although this is common in the teen years, a person who is at high risk for developing an eating disorder will take concerns over parental relationship problems to an extreme. The child may be afraid of disappointing his or her parents or may be trying to control an unspoken conflict or lack of harmony within the family.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 25, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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