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Bulimia study says “treat blacks”

December 18, 2009

A new study (via) on bulimia comes to a conclusion that may seem obvious but in fact defies common wisdom: treat blacks. Researchers from University of Maryland and the Autonomous University of Barcelona found that African American girls are 50% more likely than white girls to suffer from bulimia. Girls from low-income families are also more likely than girls from middle and high-income families to suffer. I find it really upsetting that its taken so long for bulimia in low-income and African American communities to be recognized much less understood. These conclusions surprised even the researchers who held the belief, like many do, that bulimia is more common among white girls from middle and high-income families. Researcher Michelle Goeree have some theories as to why this conception of bulimia has stuck:

We were less surprised after we realized that insurance may not cover the expensive doctor visit where a girl with an eating disorder gets diagnosed. If two girls both suffer from bulimia nervosa, but one is from a low-income family and the other from a high-income family, which girl is most likely to be diagnosed if it requires a visit to the expensive psychiatrist?

The results of this situation are that girls who are African American and/or come from low-income families are much less likely to be diagnosed. Judging from the shock of the researchers themselves, the African American experience of body image, addiction, and food is an area that needs a lot more understanding. How have these experiences gone silent for so long? Although 10 million Americans intimately experience eating disorders, we’re just now recognizing the breadth of suffering in African American and low-income communities? Here is a case where privilege in regards to class, race and gender has intersected to marginalize young black women and allow their experiences to be silenced. The experience of eating disorders is so much more than low self-esteem, it’s a really important health issue that needs to be recognized and treated. Women’s negative relationships with their bodies can hold them back mentally, socially and can have serious effects on their health. The fact that prevalence is higher in African American and low-income communities is both an indicator of and contributor to a system of marginalization.

While I don’t believe that eating disorders are caused by depictions of beauty in the media, I think the unattainable beauty norms that are shown is the reason that issues of depression, anxiety, control, etc. are expressed through the way people eat. And it’s a particularly damaging and unhealthy way to express it. NEDA reports that research about eating disorders is remarkably underfunded. Clearly one of the areas that needs more research is body image for women of color. As Jill has reminded us before, white beauty norms are not problematic for white women only. And it’s not that women are not speaking out about their experiences with eating disorders, it’s that somehow we aren’t listening.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2009 1:43 PM

    Interesting .. . .

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  1. Bulimia study says “treat blacks” « Happy Bodies faculty university

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