Eating Disorders among different cultures

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Many problems have come up in the advent of modernization in today’s society. These problems seem to affect not only a specific group of people, but also other related groups from other countries. Eating disorders can be considered as an example of these problems. One of the leading causes of these eating disorders is culture, wherein the rates of these eating problems are comparably varying on different cultures and changes across time alongside the evolution of culture. The United States is a conglomeration of different cultures, that’s why it is possible to see and compare the various effects on the eating disorders.

It is possible to see how the dominant American culture can affect the eating disorders of other cultures in and out of the country. One of the most common eating disorder in today’s society is the Anorexia nervosa or the obsessive fear of gaining weight resulting to a low body weight and body image distortion. It has received recognition as a medical disorder way back the late 1800’s and has shown a rapid rate of increase a few decades back. Another eating problem to consider is the Bulimia nervosa, which is characterized by binge eating and intentional purging of food so that the person may not gain weight (Bemporad, 2004).

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This disorder has just received recognition in the late 1970’s, wherein it is viewed to be representing a new eating disorder for a person. But there were records in history that tells a different story. There had been accounts saying that these eating problems may date back in the ancient centuries, wherein it varied at indefinite rates, depending on the culture. Even before the nineteenth century, there were forms of self starvation that has been explained. An example is when male hermits renounced the material world because of their beliefs (Vandereycken & Deth, 1994).

They often indulge in abstaining from the luxuries of life, like eating sumptuous meals, choosing to eat only what their body needs to live. There have also been relationships of the early anorexics to living a holy life in the times of the Renaissance (Chan, 2002). This was most common in the urban centers of Southern Europe. People who wanted a life free of sin denounced the material world, thus opting to starve themselves to death, so that they would avoid doing any worldly sins. It is clear that the reasons and motivations of submitting to these eating disorders in the past were greatly varying.

Because of historical records and evidences of the existence of these eating disorders and problems, this questions the actuality of asserting that eating disorders came up because of pressures in the society. There are no actual evidences that points to this, but there is a recurring pattern of relating the emergence of these eating disorders to the current state of the society and its culture. These socio-cultural factors have existed through the course of time and have played a great role in molding these various eating disorders. The situation within America

There are a lot of studies and researches that connects socio-cultural factors of the American society to the existence of various eating problems. The development of these eating disorders are more associated to the local American “whites” and are perceived not to exist on the “black” people before. This was just an exclusive claim before but researches later on that there were relatively the same amount of affected people on these “whites” and “blacks,” proving that these eating disorders may occur regardless of the race or the color of the skin.

The diversity of culture inside the American society has also proven a significant part in the story (Palme, 2006a). Not only the local American residents have been found to have exuded signs of these eating disorders, but also other races, like Italians, Asians, and African-Americans. There were also researches which stated that Jews, Catholics, and Italians are the ones more likely to develop these disorders, since they are the ones who possess different cultural attitudes regarding food’s relevance and its importance to their lives.

There are also notably higher occurrences of these eating disorders on African-Americans, and to note that they were perceived before as the ones who are not being affected by these eating problems. There is a prevalence of these eating disorders, especially Anorexia nervosa and its levels are considerably increasing. Surveys showed that the levels of abnormality in their eating behavior and body dissatisfaction is at par or the same as that of the “whites” or the Caucasian women, thus this case shows a negative relationship between body dissatisfaction and having an identity of being a “black. The then considered characteristic exclusive in the white American culture, the concept of the beauty of being thin is also gaining popularity and a large following among the African-American “black” culture. Other ethnic groups also show extremely high levels of these eating disorders than what was perceived before. This includes the adolescent female members of the Hispanic and Asian-American people who show hate or dissatisfaction with their bodies than most of the white girls.

Eating disorders have also been recorded for those living in rural areas like the Appalachian people who have been suffering from these problems also. The rates of the occurrence of these eating disorders are the same as that of the urban areas of the country (Miller & Pumariega, 1999). This is just a manifestation of the erosion of the various cultural beliefs that these groups of people have been protecting with their beliefs for so long, yet as what is happening now, slowly losing its footholds.

This may be because of their exposure to the mainstream American culture, which is definitely full of various encouragements to live a thin life; showing that thin is in and fat is out. There were some claims that the occurrence of these eating problems and disorders can be related to the people’s socio-economic status. Those who are in the upper echelon of the society are the ones who are mostly challenged with this eating disorders and problems. But this has showed no convincing proof, since Anorexia nervosa and upper socio-economic status are poorly related, and the case of Bulimia nervosa may even show the reverse of the statement.

Several researches showed that Bulimia is more common for those living in the lower socio-economic groups of people, which are why eating disorders and the person’s capacity to buy food may not be directly related or associated. Eating disorders in other countries There have been much rarer occurrences of these different eating disorders accounted outside the United States. The most common reason for this is the different notions to what they think about beauty, how it is defined in the context of that country, and how people take it in their personal lives.

A lot of non-western countries accepts plumpness as a measure of desirability, thus many people are attracted to those who are on the “bulky” end than those who are slim (Chan, 2002). They associate this plumpness as signs of prosperity, success, economic stability, and the ability to bear children. In these cultures, there is lesser occurrence of these eating disorders as compared to its occurrence in the Western countries. But as the years passed, these ideas are slowly getting affected with the western notion of beauty, thus they are slowly turning away from the plump bodies, towards the skinnier, model-like stature.

This has been manifested by most of the non-industrialized or pre-modern populations of today. There are also lower rates or occurrences of eating disorders in countries which have restricted social responsibilities for the women. This brings back the times of women not being able to choose freely, wherein men dictates for them, what they should do, what they should wear, eat, etc. totally lacking the freedom to choose for her own. These are still evident in some Muslim countries and societies wherein it limits the social attitude of the females depending on the males; they are but followers of whatever man chooses for them.

Because of this, there are no notable evidences of eating disorders in their culture. These associates the eating disorders of women to the notion of freedom; women are free to do anything with their bodies, thus these eating disorders may have aroused from their freedom to choose whatever they want to do with their bodies and their lives. There are also some important analogies and comparisons with the various eating problems on different countries being analyzed.

Taking Hong Kong and India as examples, these countries have cases of Anorexia nervosa, yet they have lacked a certain fundamental characteristic. The people who suffer from this eating disorder in these countries doesn’t see themselves as people getting fat, they suffer from Anorexia nervosa because of religious purposes. They indulge in fasting to clear themselves of their “sins,” and for some, by unconventional nutritional ideas. It is not a fear of fatness, but a measure of gratifying themselves in another way, such as cleansing their worldly sins through fasting or other nutritional beliefs.

This is a manifestation of the various differences in cases wherein these eating disorders may arise. In the Western culture, there were behaviors leading to anorexic behavior evident on saints from the middle ages. They consider this as a sign of spiritual purity, wherein it is not a matter of how thin they are, what is more important is that they are pure and free from worldly sins of the flesh, which in this part, is the concept of eating delicious foods and sumptuous meals (Palme, 2006a).

Being thin has been the ideal body composition of those people aspiring for a pure life at that time. Eating disorders and women Anorexia and bulimia are more common to white women and girls, but according to psychologists, various races and ethnic groups are also “joining in” and suffering from these eating disorders because they want to fit in along with these white women. They wanted to be like them, as what is commonly seen on television advertisements, magazines and more.

There are no definite numbers of minorities who suffer from these various eating problems, but it is evident that they are really struggling to fit in, even if it causes suffering and hardships. Before, colored women were seen as not prone to these eating problems, but as time has passed, there was significant increase in the number of these women suffering from the same problems (Piccini, 2006). These problems are a manifestation of what may happen to the minority if they are exposed to the mainstream American culture.

They will be able to develop eating disorders and eating problems, just like what the white Caucasian females are suffering. These colored women see these white people as their basis and that they are considered as their examples as to what they should look like and how they would treat their bodies. They are attempting to blend in the white culture, even though it would mean suffering from these eating disorders that these white women are suffering from (Bunch, 2001).

They are looking towards thinner, much more beautiful physical characteristics as it was shown by the white women they would often see in movies, advertisements, magazines and printed advertisements. Not only were the western countries getting affected, these eating disorders were also infecting their Asian counterparts. Modernized countries like South Korea and Singapore are slowly turning to these eating problems, wherein they are biting into the temptation of getting thin for the sake of their beauty, as influenced by what they see in the western countries through movies, televisions and magazines (Palme, 2006b).

Young adults aspire to be like the skinny models and actresses that they see on television that is why they are turning away from the healthy, well-build physique, towards the skinny body structure because of those influences. Also, some Asian-American women feel that they are required to fit into what others view them, no matter how stereotypical it was, they will still do their best to comply. Chinese people are forced to look like petite, doll-figured stereotype that the western people gave them.

They feel that if they divert from this, other people may look down or look differently at them. They would rather stay to be like geishas, exotic beauties, or China dolls than to be branded as fat or ugly, and the likes. Anorexia nervosa may have been seen as something of a cultural background, a disorder that has roots coming from the different beliefs and societal restrictions and responsibilities of people. It may also be associated with western conflicts and conglomeration of different cultures from other countries.

Eating disorders may have possibly come about the various cultural circumstances that has been passed down generation to generation, but still, it is a prevailing problem. It is a not a matter to be overlooked, since it is gaining wide popularity and affecting millions of lives worldwide. What the people should do is use its cultural roots to solve it, not as something that could make matters worst.


Bemporad, J. R. (2004). The Prehistory of Anorexia Nervosa. The Psychoanalytic Approach to Psychosomatics and Eating Disorders: The Newsletter of the Psychosomatic Discussion Group of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Volume 1(Issue 6), 132-136. Bunch, K. (2001). Fitting In, Losing Out Culture Shock, Volume 2(Number 1), 1-2. Chan, Z. C. Y. (2002). The secrets of self-starvation. Journal of International Women’s Studies, Vol. 1(Number 6). Miller, M. N. , & Pumariega, A. (1999). Culture and Eating Disorders. PsychiatricTimes, Vol. 16(Issue 2). Palme, G. (2006a). Eating Disorders Today and in Earlier Times.

Retrieved April 17, 2007, from http://web4health. info/en/answers/ed-other-then-and-now. htm Palme, G. (2006b). Factors Causing Ill-Health in our Culture: Normal Girls Pressed to Be Abnormally Slim. WebforHealth, Vol. 2(Number 16), 1-2. Piccini, F. (2006). Cultural Background of Teen Eating Disorders. Retrieved April 17, 2006, from http://web4health. info/en/answers/ed-causes-culture. htm Vandereycken, W. , & Deth, R. V. (1994). From Fasting Saints to Anorexic Girls: The History of Self-Starvation (1st ed. ). New York, NY: New York University Press.

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