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Saturday, 26 April 2008 18:45

UNC study: Eating disorders common among U.S. women

A University of North Carolina study has found that the majority of women in the United States between the ages of 25 and 45 years have disordered eating behaviors.

The goal of the study, headed by Cynthia R. Bulik, of the Department of Psychiatry at UNC School of Medicine, was to discover trends in the eating habits of U.S. women in order to help them develop healthier habits with regards to eating.

Realizing from past studies that women have eating disorders and often have negative attitudes toward their bodies, the researchers actually discovered a quite obsessive and unhealthy attitude with a high proportion of women in the United States.

The study conducted by Bulik and co-researcher Lauren Reba-Harrelson  used a detailed online questionnaire that resulted in responses from 4,023 women. In the survey, the women answered questions relating to their eating habits.

The results of the study, presented in April and May 2008, found that 65% of women between the ages of 25 and 45 years have disordered eating behaviors.

In addition, another 10% of the women report symptoms that are associated with eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia, and binge eating disorder.

Thus, in all, 75% of women--that’s three out of every four women in the United States between the ages of 25 and 45 years—have an eating disorder or have symptoms related to an eating disorder.

The Bulik survey, performed by SELF Magazine along with the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), exposes the high percentage of women in the United States that have negative thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to eating food and/or the state of their figures (bodies).

Bulik and Reba-Harrelson found that these unhealthy eating habits are found in all racial and ethnic groups of women.

In fact, Bulik stated, “Our survey found that these behaviors cut across racial and ethnic lines and are not limited to any one group. Women who identified their ethnic backgrounds as Hispanic or Latina, white, black or African American and Asian were all represented among the women who reported unhealthy eating behaviors.” [UNC School of Public Health: “Survey finds disordered eating behaviors among three out of four American women”]

Bulik also reported what she considered an “unexpectedly high number” of women with such problems.

She stated, “What we found most surprising was the unexpectedly high number of women who engage in unhealthy purging activities. More than 31 percent of women in the survey reported that in an attempt to lose weight they had induced vomiting or had taken laxatives, diuretics or diet pills at some point in their life. Among these women, more than 50 percent engaged in purging activities at least a few times a week and many did so every day.” [UNC School of Public Health]

As stated on the University of North Carolina article, these problems can range from more serious, life-threatening consequences (as in anorexia and bulimia nervosa) to less serious physical or emotional concerns (which result in skipping meals or eliminating certain food groups).

The specific findings of the study on women and eating disorders are found on the next page.

The specific findings of the study performed by Bulik and Reba-Harrelson is quoted below.

They are:

    75 percent of women report disordered eating behaviors or symptoms consistent with eating disorders; so three out of four have an unhealthy relationship with food or their bodies
•    67 percent of women (excluding those with actual eating disorders) are trying to lose weight
•    53 percent of dieters are already at a healthy weight and are still trying to lose weight
•    39 percent of women say concerns about what they eat or weigh interfere with their happiness
•    37 percent regularly skip meals to try to lose weight
•    27 percent would be “extremely upset” if they gained just five pounds
•    26 percent cut out entire food groups
•    16 percent have dieted on 1,000 calories a day or fewer
•    13 percent smoke to lose weight
•    12 percent often eat when they’re not hungry; 49 percent sometimes do

The results of the study appear in the May 2008 issue of SELF Magazine under the title “The disorder next door.”

Besides the article that appears in SELF Magazine, Bulik and Reba-Harrelson will present their conclusions on May 17, 2008, at the 2008 International Conference on Eating Disorders, which will be held in Seattle, Washington, United States.

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