Once thought to be a disease affecting only white females, eating disorders are breaking racial barriers, a new study finds. Research by Catherine Shisslak, a professor at University of Arizona College of Medicine, shows eating disorders are on the rise among Hispanic women. “A growing body of research indicates that minority females exhibit many of the same abnormal eating behaviors as white females,” Shisslak reported.
Examining eating and dieting patterns among Hispanic, white, and African-American girls in grades 4 through 12, “A Longitudinal Analysis of Patterns of Disordered Eating Among Adolescent Girls from Three Ethnic Groups” found that not only did tenth grade Hispanic girls display signs of eating disorders at the same rate of their peers, but Hispanic girls reported more weight loss attempts than their other racial counterparts as early as seventh grade.
Many experts blame the growing prevalence of eating disorders among Hispanic women on the media’s continued obsession with ultra-thiness. The average child in the US watches over 21 hours of TV each week, not counting exposure to other forms of media, according to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. (ANRED). Even as Latin culture gains wider representation in mainstream media, the preference among many Hispanic societies for a larger body type (viewed as a sign of health and wealth) is quickly being replaced by slender stars like Jennifer Lopez and Penelope Cruz.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, studies show that Hispanic girls are also at a higher risk than white girls for depression, and their loss of self-esteem as they enter adolescence is more acute than many of their other-ethnic peers. Hispanic girls, like African-Americans, may also have a harder time fitting the American body ideal because on average they have higher body mass indexes (girls ages 5-17) than white and Asian girls. Latina girls are particularly susceptible to two types of eating disorders: dieting and purging. Awareness is the first step, say some experts, because many Hispanics still do not recognize the disease as one faced by their community.