Cross-cultural variation in disordered eating attitudes and behaviours : a study of female university students in KwaZulu-Natal.
Winship, Jacqueline Ruth.
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There is a paucity of South African data concerning the cross-cultural incidence of attitudes and behaviours associated with eating disorders. Research in this area has recognised that acculturation to a Western value system appears to have a pathogenic impact on the prevalence of disordered eating among non-Western ethnic groups. This study aimed to explore the relationship between acculturation and disordered eating, and to compare the level of disordered eating (as measured by the Eating Disorders Inventory [EDI]) among black and white female university students in KwaZulu-Natal. The roles of Body Mass Index (BMI) and socioeconomic status were also examined. The sample consisted of one hundred and twenty-two white female undergraduate students from the University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg), fifteen black female undergraduate students from the University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg), and one hundred and fifty-four black female undergraduate students from the University of Zululand. It was found that although black subjects obtained significantly higher scores on the Drive for Thinness subscale of the EDI, white subjects obtained significantly higher scores on a combination of the three subscales designated to assess disordered eating attitudes and behaviours. Black subjects obtained significantly higher BMI scores than white subjects, and BMI was positively correlated with Body Dissatisfaction in both groups, and with Drive for Thinness in the white group only. No relationship was found between socioeconomic status and disordered eating. Similarly, no relationship was found between acculturation and disordered eating. This latter result is partly a function of problems experienced with the measures of acculturation. A comparison of black subjects from the two universities suggests that greater contact with white students is influential in terms of the development of disordered eating. The above results are discussed in terms of the available literature, and recommendations for future research are made on the basis of the limitations of this study. The data from this study is included in a nation wide cross-cultural study of eating disorders initiated by the Eating Disorders Co-ordinating Committee.