Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 184-187

First online:

Eating disorders: The cultural dimension

  • Mervat NasserAffiliated withc/o Dr. Paul Bebbington MRC Social Psychiatry Unit, Institute of Psychiatry

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The role of socio-cultural factors in the pathogenesis of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia has been the object of recent interest. The phenomena, mainly described in the West, were partly attributed to the idealisation of thinness in Western culture. The paper reviews published epidemiological research from non-western countries in the area of eating disorders to elucidate the difference in prevalence, allowing for the lack of clarity in some of the methodology and the absence of operational criteria to define and diagnose the particular syndromes in these studies. The paper also examines research findings of the effect of cultural change on body weight. There is a strong indication that cultural change, i. e. identification with Western norms in relation to body weight, is consistently followed with an increase in weight consciousness and the risk of developing eating disorders.