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Cultural Background of Teen Eating Disorders

Abstract: 4-5 % of teen girls suffer from eating disorder in western societies. This is because of the cultural pressure to become abnormally thin.

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Cultural Background of Teen Eating Disorders

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Written by: Fabio Piccini, doctor and Jungian psychotherapist, in charge of the "Centre for Eating Disorders Therapy" at "Malatesta Novello" nursing home in Cesena. Works privately in Rimini and Chiavari. E-mail:
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 05 Aug 2008.

Is there a relation between culture and teen eating disorders?


Many transcultural anthropology and psychiatry studies have shown that eating disorders are pathologies with a very important cultural factor. They develop in countries where the prevailing culture emphasizes slimness as a desirable, socially important value.

It is no accident that today eating disorders are an epidemic emergency in Western industrialised countries where 4-5 percent of girls between 15 and 35 suffer from them, while the situation is practically unknown in China, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Oceania, and in many Arab States.

However, a girl who has been brought up in one of these continents but moves for various reasons, such as study or work, to a country with a high percentage of eating disorders, a country where the media discuss the body, body fitness, slimness and diets, in a year or two, could risk developing an eating disorder just like girls who have always lived in this type of culture.

The importance of slimness in a culture and its massive imposition on the female gender can be understood by a simple test.

Go to a newspaper kiosk and turn over the pages of any women's magazine. Try to:

  • Find a magazine where there is no suggested diet.
  • Find advertising pages of magazines where there are many models. Analyse their body fitness and try to estimate their weight. Then have a look around and see if there are more women that look like models or women that weigh more.

As a matter of fact, while the average weight of the population in Western countries has steadily increased in the last 40 years, the average weight of their ideal models has steadily decreased. To verify this fact it is enough to look at photos of the 60s.

This means that the average teenager of 1960 looked through the fashion magazine pages and saw models that had figures more or less similar to hers.
Nowadays, the average teenager looking through a similar magazine sees models that on average weigh 20% less than her, and begins thinking that maybe she needs a diet to look like them.

This explains why nowadays there are so many eating disorders while in 1960 these pathologies were a rarity. More.

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