In a recent UGA study on eating behaviors, ethnic identity did not influence the amount of food eaten by those studied, which contradicts existing research.
Previous research had suggested that ethnic identity can influence individuals’ perceptions of how thin they should be and can lead to distorted beliefs about the benefits of being thin, which can result in disordered eating.
The belief that individuals who consciously eat less are respected more by their peers can have a large impact on the development of eating disorders, said Monika Stojek, a doctoral student in the psychology department in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
In her study, Stojek wanted to find out whether ethnic identity and women’s beliefs about the benefits of being thin could be used to predict consciously less eating in a diverse sample.
“Originally it was believed that only white, middle-class females could develop eating disorders,” Stojek said.
Stojek and Sara Fischer, who was Stojek’s former major professor at UGA and is now at George Mason University, followed 193 black and white women throughout their first semesters of college and had each answer four separate sets of questions. Two of the questionnaires asked demographic information and specific questions about how the women felt about their ethnic group. The other two questionnaires examined the women’s beliefs about the benefits of being thin and whether they ever purposefully ate less.
Based on averages, Stojek and Fischer found that white women consciously ate less food more often than black women, and black women had a stronger association with ethnic identity than white women. However, both groups experienced similar increases in restricting how much they ate throughout the semester.
While the number of white, black, Asian and Latino women who have eating disorders is about the same, according to Fischer, the lack of diversity in samples doesn’t allow for the most accurate understanding of how eating disorders are experienced in the general population.