Culture and Eating Disorders:

A Historical and Cross-Cultural Review


Merry N. Miller and Andres J. Pumariega

CULTURAL beliefs and attitudes have been identified as significant contributing factors in the development of eating disorders.  Rates of these disorders appear to vary among different racial/ethnic and national groups, and they also change across time as cultures evolve.  Eating disorders are, in fact, more prevalent within various cultural groups than previously recognized, both within American ethnic minorities and those in other countries.  This review examines evidence for the role of culture as an etiological factor for the development of eating disorders.   Historical and  cross-cultural experiences suggest that cultural change itself may be associated with increased vulnerability to eating disorders, especially when values about physical aesthetics are involved.  Such chance may occur across time within a given society, or on an individual level, as when an immigrant moves into a new culture.  Further research into the cultural factors that promote the development of eating is much needed.  Understanding how cultural forces contribute to the development of disorders is needed so that preventive interventions can be created.


This article may be read in its entirety in the journal titles Psychiatry 64(2) Summer 2001


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