Prevalence of eating disturbances among South African university students : a cross-cultural comparison.
A total sample of 1,105 students from the universities of Natal, Witwatersrand and the North participated in this study. The Eating Attitude Test (EAT) and the Bulimic Investigatory Test, Edinburgh (BITE) were administered to three female and three male student samples. Subjects also provided biographic, demographic and weight-related information. The majority of subjects fell within the average weight range of the Body Mass Index (BMI), with the percentage of underweight Indian subjects being higher than the corresponding percentages of the black and white student groups. The majority of males in each race group have accurate weight perceptions. In contrast, the minority of females (fewer than a third) of Indian and white females and under half of black females have accurate weight perceptions. However, all overweight white females assessed themselves as such and 89% of overweight black women assessed themselves as overweight. In terms of exaggerated weight perceptions, more white and Indian females (72% and 70% respectively) consider themselves as overweight or very overweight when they were actually of average weight, than black females (47%). Females in each race group scored consistently higher on all scales assessed than their male counterparts. White females exhibited the most disturbed eating behaviours and attitudes in terms of the categorised percentage scores obtained on all scales of the BITE and EAT. No Indian males obtained scores in the pathological range. On the EAT scale, 19% of white females, 17% of black females and 9% of Indian females, 7% of black males and 1% of white males obtained scores which were categorised as pathological. The more stringent criteria of the BITE showed a lower percentage of all subjects in the pathological range, albeit still retaining the gender discrepancy. Thirteen percent of white female students, 8% of black females, 3% of Indian females, 2% of white males and 1% of black males obtained a pathological score on the BITE scale. The Indian female and male sample exhibited the healthiest eating behaviours and attitudes relative to the other two racial groups examined. In terms of mean scores a general trend emerged in which black males obtained higher mean scores than white and Indian males, and black females obtained mean scores (which were overall) similar in magnitude to those of white females. The majority of black females who obtained pathological scores were urban raised and were from the upper socio-economic stratum. The majority of white females who obtained pathological scores were from urban backgrounds, had exaggerated weight perceptions and expressed a desire to lose at least 10 kilograms of weight.