Perceptions of the causes of eating disorders: a comparison of individuals with and without eating disorders

Blodgett Salafia, Elizabeth H.; Jones, Maegan E.; Haugen, Emily C.; Schaefer, Mallary K.
December 2015
Journal of Eating Disorders;12/1/2015, Vol. 3, p1
Academic Journal
Background: In this study, we examined perceptions regarding the causes of eating disorders, both among those with eating disorders as well as those without. By understanding the differences in perceived causes between the two groups, better educational programs for lay people and those suffering from eating disorders can be developed. Method: This study used open-ended questions to assess the beliefs of 57 individuals with self-reported eating disorders and 220 without. Participants responded to the questions, "What do you think was (were) the cause(s) of your eating disorder?" and "What do you think is (are) the cause(s) of eating disorders?". Results: A list of possible codes for the causes of eating disorders was created based on a thorough review of the literature. A manually-generated set of eight codes was then created from individuals' actual responses. Frequencies and chi square analyses demonstrated differences in rates of endorsement between those with eating disorders and those without. Participants with eating disorders most frequently endorsed psychological/emotional and social problems, with genetics/biology and media/culture ideals least endorsed. Participants without eating disorders most frequently endorsed psychological/emotional problems and media/culture ideals, with traumatic life events and sports/health least endorsed. There was a difference between groups in the endorsement of the media as a cause of eating disorders, suggesting that those without eating disorders may overly attribute the media as the main cause while those with eating disorders may not be fully aware of the media's impact. Additionally, while both groups highly endorsed psychological/emotional problems, there was a noticeable stigma about eating disorders among those without eating disorders. Conclusions: There were noteworthy differences between samples; such differences suggest that there is a need for more education on the topic of eating disorders. Furthermore, despite empirical support for the effects of genetics, sports, and family factors, these were infrequently endorsed as causes of eating disorders by both groups. Our results suggest that there is a need for more education regarding the factors associated with eating disorders, in order to reduce the stigma surrounding these disorders and to potentially aid the treatment process.



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