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
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.
Eating disorders in children and teens cause serious changes in eating
habits that can lead to major, even life threatening health problems. The three
main types of eating disorders are:
Anorexia, a condition in which a child refuses to eat adequate
calories out of an intense and irrational fear of becoming fat
Bulimia, a condition in which a child grossly overeats (binging) and
then purges the food by vomiting or using laxatives to prevent weight gain
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.
Are concerned about appearance.
about being socially accepted.
Are concerned about physical
fitness, including parents' own body weight and that of the child (or
Are overprotective or too involved in their teen's
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.