What Does the Research Say About Ethnicity and Eating Disorders?

Disordered eating is equally prevalent in whites, blacks, and Latinos.
Published on July 30, 2011 by Marcia Herrin, Ed.D., M.P.H., R.D. in Eating Disorders News

I returned from my vacation to read Nancy’s blog on the Los Angeles’s based the psychiatrist who sees very little anorexia among lower socioeconomic class Latino and black patients. I am researcher at heart so I took a quick look at the studies on the relationship of ethnicity and culture to eating disorders. Here is my summary of the scientific literature:
1. Eating disordered behaviors in community studies were found to be equally prevalent in Latino, blacks and whites.
2. Latinos and blacks are more likely to suffer from bulimia than anorexia than whites do.
3. Ethnic families are less likely to be knowledgeable about eating disorders.
4. Compared to whites, Latino and black patients with eating disorders are more likely to be evaluated by general practitioners than by mental health providers leading to “under-detection.”
5. High levels of acculturation to Anglo American culture increases risk for eating disorders and also the likelihood of getting treatment.
6. The main barriers to seeking treatment in Latino and black patients is not knowing where to go for help, feeling that “I can take care of this myself,” and not expecting to get appropriate help.
7. Researchers conclude that it is a misconception that ethnic minority individuals are protected from eating disorders.
8. There is a need for more accessible and culturally sensitive treatment approaches.

Nutritionist Marcia Herrin and Nancy Matsumoto, co-authors of The Parent’s Guide to Eating Disorders, Gūrze Books, (www.childhoodeatingdisorders.com). Marcia is also author of Nutrition Counseling in the Treatment of Eating Disorders (www.marciaherrin.com).
Copyrighted by Marcia Herrin and Nancy Matsumoto