Culture and Eating Disorders

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 groups within the United States and internationally, and also across time as cultures evolve.  Eating disorders are increasing in prevalence across diverse cultural groups more than previously recognized.  Historical and cross-cultural experience suggest that cultural change itself may be associated with increased vulnerability to eating disorders, especially when values about physical aesthetics and gender roles are involved.  Such change may occur across time within a greater society, or on an individual level, as when an immigrant moves into a new culture.  This review examines evidence for the role of culture as a contributing factor in the development of eating disorders, examining American and international studies of prevalence as well as association with cultural value orientation.  A hypothesis of the impact of cultural transition is also offered.  Further research on how cultural factors contribute to the development of disorders is needed in order to guide treatment and preventive interventions.


This article may be read in its entirety in the Focus On Eating Disorders Research, ISBN: 1-59033-785-9 2003, on pages 109 to 134.


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