Women with Eating Disorders and Perceived Social Support

Claire E. Cusack & Jennifer L. Hughes*
Agnes Scott College

Full manuscript: www.kon.org/urc/v13/cusack.html

Abstract: Body image issues and eating disorders are becoming a growing concern for women. Social support has been found to serve as a buffer for mental health even when the person is experiencing psychological distress (Kawachi & Berkman, 2001). The aim of the current study was to determine whether social support is related to eating disorder attitudes and body image concerns by examining the effects of social support for women with and without eating disorders while attending to other variables, such as eating disorder type, level of care received, and sexual orientation. Our sample was composed of 202 participants who voluntarily completed an online survey. There were positive correlations between body image and perceived social support from family and friends for women with and without eating disorders. ANOVAs showed no significant effect of perceived social support from friends or family or level of care on eating disorder symptoms or body image. Lastly, in regard to sexual orientation, there were no significant differences between heterosexual women and sexual minority women in eating disordered symptoms, number of women with eating disorders, or body image concern. The results indicate that women with eating disorders perceive less social support than women without eating disorders from friends, and family. Additionally, social support from family and friends is related to a more positive body image for both women with and without eating disorder history. Women experience similar frequency of eating disordered symptoms and body image concerns regardless of type of social support or level of care. Lastly, our findings show that women of varying sexual orientations experience eating disorder symptoms and body image concerns at similar rates. The results of this research have implications to influence eating disorder prevention and treatment programs by acknowledging the impact of social support on eating disorder symptoms and body image for women.

Introduction: Eating disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent in our society. In a study investigating eating disorders in college women Mintz and Betz (1988) found that although only 3 percent of the sample was found to be bulimic, 82 percent engaged in at least one dieting behavior daily, 33 percent reported serious forms of managing weight, such as laxatives and self-induced vomiting, and 38 percent reported a problem with binge eating. In fact, the results suggested that unhealthy eating habits are the norm for college students. As eating disorders are becoming progressively more common, it is essential to examine potential correlates with eating disorders. Social ties have been known to influence mental health and help maintain psychological wellbeing (Kawachi & Berkman, 2001). However, they argued that social support could have two effects: one promoting self-efficacy and esteem and one disabling by emphasizing dependence. The aim of the current study was to determine the effects of social support for women with and without eating disorders while examining other variables, such as type of eating disorder, level of care received, and sexual orientation. This research was important because it furthered our understanding of eating disorders to advance both prevention and treatment programs.

Read the full manuscript: www.kon.org/urc/v13/cusack.html