Eating Disorders Sociological Factors

Eating disorders do not discriminate. The risk factors range from ideographic to cultural levels and do not bear boundaries where age or gender are concerned (Wal, Gibbons, & Grazioso; 2008). As stated in their article “The sociocultural model of eating disorder development: Application to a Guatemalan sample” Wal, Gibbons, and Grazioso state “Risk factors at the cultural level include rapid economic development, industrialization, urbanization, and modernization.” The study goes on to mention accompanying societal changes such as loosening gender roles, exposure to the cultural practices of other groups and varying societal norms. In fact, one of the predominant statements made widely throughout eating disorder research is the exposure to “Western” ideals around thinness.

Research supports significant changes from the mid-1990’s to the recent decade around body image, disordered eating, and diagnosable eating disorders. The numbers support a rise in reports among African American and other minority groups of women, (Starr & Kreipe, 2014; Gilbert, 2011; Comer, 2016 pg. 295) something that is not surprising when considering the Western societies views on diet, exercise, and the vision of health and wellness. Men, who, on paper, may only account for up to 10 percent of the documented cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, have societal pressures as well, and with their gender identity ranging from that of an effeminate male to what they view as a strong dominate or athletic man, those statistics along with additional disordered eating patterns are probably higher.

In the media source this week “The perfect image” produced by Griffith, J. in 2012, we learned that the prevalence of eating disorders among elite athletes is reported by NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) to effect on average 42% of the females and 33% of the males. Although the cause is stated as unclear, it seems that with the early age in which these participants are encouraged by coaches, peers, and parents to diet as a means to improve would impose upon one with low self-esteem and body image issues, psychological habits toward the need for perfectionism. Couple this with gender-socialization experiences, sexual objectification, and self-objectification as in McKinley and Hyde’s, (1996) objectified body consciousness where the body is viewed by the self as they believe an outside observer would feel shameful if the “standard” as they imagine it is not met, and hold strong beliefs that with sufficient effort they can control through action their appearance (Jackson and Chen, 2015) it is no wonder that these numbers continue to grow.

The vulnerability to develop an eating disorder across gender, ethnicity, culture, and where substance use disorders are prevalent, is not as shocking when we look at the “who” is modeling “what” is attractive, and what is “cool.” Even the curvy Kardashian family will focus in on a body part they can control, the waistline, where corsets and other extreme measures have been thoughted. Most their show centers around fashion, beauty, exercise, diet, overindulgence, extreme swings, and even shame when struggling to meet goals, as has been the brothers’ primary “role” on the show. Jordan Sparks a recent vocal reality show winner dropped an extreme amount of weight and received high recognition for “becoming so beautiful.” Something that years before we witnessed Kelly Clarkson “achieve,” only her battle was not as “successful” in that she gave up the fight to fit into the mold. The list of public figures morphing in front of our eyes and the eyes of our youth is very long, but we should not lose site of our involvement with the perception of beauty and perfectionism.

The fact is that the risk factors predate the beginning of disordered eating and “predict the emergence of clinically significant eating disorders” (NEDA, 2016). The risk factors for any/all eating disorders are stated by NEDA to begin with body dissatisfaction, negative affect, thin-ideal internalization, diet, and family social support deficits. Other risk factors that may hold lower numbers in studies but are as equally important to be mindful of are low self-esteem, social problems such as social withdrawal, maladaptive coping skills, solitary eating, and negative comments about eating (NEDA, 2016).

Our culture of men and women alike is diverse. Further, it glorifies “thinness” and “muscularity” as the “perfect body” and places a person’s physical shape, weight, or overall appearance to be of primary value, not the inner qualities and strengths. Those with a history of being teased or ridiculed for their size or weight will develop troubled inner personal relationships, have difficulty expressing their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and opinions because they believe they are inadequate and lack control in their life. The adverse effects of the disordered eating behaviors of dieting and fasting due to body dissatisfaction or body dysmorphia imposed through social pressures and thin-ideal internalization do not see race, color, gender, or age; just societal norms and desires.

Even with all the evidence around the development of eating disorders pointing to sociocultural perspectives, the ability to develop a comprehensive sociocultural risk factor model, in my opinion, is not possible, without the integration of the biological, behavioral and cognitive modalities. In other words, “biopsychosocial theories state that abnormality results from the interaction of genetic, biological, developmental, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social, cultural, and societal influences” (Comer, 2016; pg 73). In fact, the complexities of eating disorder conditions involve aspects from all levels. Therefore, focusing solely on the external forces that drive the internal processing of what is forming the maladaptive behavior would be incomplete.



Comer, R. J. (2016). Fundamentals of abnormal psychology (8th ed.). New York, NY: Worth

Jackson, T., & Chen, H. (2015). Features of objectified body consciousness and sociocultural perspectives as risk factors for disordered eating among late-adolescent women and men.  Journal of Counseling Psychology,62(4),741–752. Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Griffith, J. (Producer). (2012). The perfect image [Video file]. Retrieved from

NEDA (National eating disorders association) Factors that may contribute to eating disorders. Retrieved from

Jillon S. Vander Wal, Judith L. Gibbons, & Maria del Pilar Grazioso (2008). The sociocultural model of eating disorder development: Application to a Guatemalan sample. Retrieved from

Published by Tricia Parido

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *