Health Psychology Eating Disorders Among Asian American Term Paper

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Eating disorders among Asian-Americans

The following study attempts to explore and delineate the problem of eating disorders among Asian-Americans. The study presents an overview of the issue and found that there exists a serious problem with regards to eating disorders among Asian-Americans, particularly among women. This syndrome is exacerbated by the complexity of acculturation in American society. These and other aspects affecting eating disorders in this group are also discussed. One of the central findings of the study is that there has been relatively little research of quality conducted on this subject.

There is a common myth that eating disorders are usually found among white females and males and not among the Asian population.

In general "Many assume that certain "blanket factors" protect minority communities from the disease, such as a general appreciation for larger body sizes, less emphasis on physical attractiveness, and a stable family and social structure." (Park E, 200) However, research and studies show that the Asian-American population is deeply affected by factors that prompt eating disorders. This, as many researchers attest, can be seen in the increasing number of Asian-Americans seeking treatment for eating disorders at mental health clinics. (ibid)

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There are numerous reasons and factors that can be seen to cause of this increase in eating disorders. Among these reasons is the fact that second and third generation Asian-Americans have acculturated to the American way of life. This has caused a degree of psychological stress which is associated to the onset of eating disorders. There are other related factors which will also be discussed in this paper. The Introduction... 4 aim of the paper is to provide an overview of the problem, and to assess and explain the increase in the number of cases relating to eating disorders within the Asian-American community.

2. An outline of the problem

Term Paper on Health Psychology Eating Disorders Among Asian American Assignment

Numerous studies and research papers indicate that many Asian-Americans are susceptible to eating disorders. This is stated clearly by Park. "This obsession with weight appears to be just as prevalent among Asian- Americans. (ibid) Park also states a very important point which has a direct bearing on this study. This refers to the fact that there has been paucity in the number and quality of studies that have been conducted to establish the extent of the problem among Asian-Americans. However, judging from the studies that have been undertaken, the problem is believed to be serious. A survey taken by Liz Dittrich found that "... 43% of Asian-American women admit that they consider themselves overweight. (ibid)

Park also states that as the Asian population in America increases, there is a concomitant increase in the number of Asians, both male and female, suffering from some form of eating disorder.

As the population of Asian-Americans increases, the number of eating disorder cases is expected to rise proportionately. Some attribute the recent jump in reported cases to more Asian-Americans being informed

Introduction... 5 about the disease and seeking help. In addition, mental health practitioners are beginning to realize that eating disorders do not afflict only upper-class white females. While fasting may be a way of dealing with discrimination, eating disorders themselves do not discriminate, infecting all genders, minorities, and cultures." (ibid)

The focus of research in terms of disorders such as Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa has tended to be almost exclusively on white American women and to a certain extent on women of African heritage. There has not been sustained and comprehensive research on this issue as it relates to the Asian-American population.

Most studies of the prevalence of bulimia nervosa have been based primarily on European-American samples (National Institute of Mental Health, 1983; Silber, 1986), with a few exceptions among African-American (Gray, Ford, & Kelly, 1987) and Hispanic-American populations (Snow & Harris, 1989). Given the recent increase of Asian immigrants to the United States, further study among Asian-Americans would provide additional insight into the prevalence of these eating disorders among minorities and would lend credence to the influence of socio-cultural variables on the development of this disease. (GRAY, JAMES. 2000)


As the above quotation points out, researchers are realizing that there is an increasingly serious problem among Asian-Americans, which is not being correctly reported due to the lack of qualitative and quantitative research. This is emphasized by James Grey. "The prevalence rates among Asian-American women may be higher than previously thought. The present findings illustrate the need for future research among culturally different populations."

The central focus area, with regard to eating disorders among Asian-Americans, is the increase in the prevalence among young Asian women in the United States. One study has shown that a survey targeting middle-level school girls in California found that Asian girls were in fact more dissatisfied with their weight and bodies than were white or Caucasian girls. The Asian girls were also among the thinnest girls in the survey. (Robinson, T.N. et al., 1996) Another study also determined that "binge-eating," one of the classic symptoms of a serious eating disorder, was in fact far more common among Asian-American women than among Caucasian women in the United States. (Story, M., French, S.A., Resnick, M., & Blum, R.W. 1995)

Another study also points out that there is a common perception that eating disorders are more prevalent among Western people. Studies clearly show that Asian-American women are much more dissatisfied with their

Introduction... 7 appearance than are their white contemporaries. (Robinson TN, Killen JD, Litt if et al. 1996)

Another common perception is that Asian cultural values would counteract Western influences and stereotypes. However, it has been found that "the influence of Western values may override positive cultural attitudes towards eating and body image as immigrants become acculturated. " (ibid)

2. Overview of the major eating disorders

The two main eating disorders, which are associated with the attainment of thinness and distinct transformation in body image, are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Anorexia Nervosa is "characterized by the refusal to eat enough food to maintain body weight over a minimal norm for age and height, an intense fear of gaining weight, body image disturbances, and possible amenorrhea or temporary cessation of menstruation." (Harrison, Kristen 1997) Bulimia Nervosa on the other hand is characterized by "a pattern of binging or eating large quantities of food over short periods of time, which is followed by attempts to compensate for this excessive caloric intake by inducing vomiting, using laxatives, severe restrictive dieting or fasting, or over exercising (American Psychiatric Association, 1994)." (ibid)


Anorexia Nervosa is a serious, often chronic, and life-threatening eating disorder. Statistics point clearly to the predominance of female sufferers with eating disorders. It is estimated (1986) that eleven-million females and one-million males in the United States suffer from some form of eating disorder. (Media Not Totally to Blame) Essentially, patients with Anorexia Nervosa can be seen to fall into two general categories - those who restrict the intake of food and those who display binging or purging behavior.

3. Causes

3. 1. Western Influences and acculturation

One of the main reasons for the increase in the number of cases of eating disorders among Asian-Americans is the influence of Western culture and the image of the ideal female body. "... recent research has shown that body dissatisfaction is increasing among Asians and Asian-Americans due to greater exposure to Western media and beauty ideals (Hall, 1995). " (Bowden, H. 2003)


In a study by Nhan Truong of the City University of New York Graduate Center, entitled Ethnicity, acculturation, and the psychological health consequences of immigrant groups, it was hypothesized that "...more acculturated 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation immigrants would experience lower levels of body esteem, higher body parts dissatisfaction, and higher levels of risks for eating disorders." (Nhan Truong)

The study concludes with a direct correlation between acculturation and eating disorders as a result of stress and psychological factors created in becoming acculturated to American society. Clinicians should note the vulnerability of both 1.5 generation immigrants and later generations in their risks for low self-esteem, poor body image, and eating difficulties... Interventions in primary and secondary schools and immigrant communities targeting these groups is recommended... these may be suggestive of interventions that could be transferred to other immigrant groups to minimize the negative effects of becoming American. (ibid)

As Park states, there is evidence that traditional Asian and Eastern cultural / traditional ways of perceiving the world have been severely altered by exposure to western ideals. This refers particularly to the idea of body image.


Generally, in many non-Western societies, plumpness is considered attractive and desirable, a trait associated with prosperity, fertility, and a sign of economic security. However, as many Asian countries become westernized and infused with the Western aesthetic ideal of a tall, thin, lean body frame, a virtual tsunami of eating disorders has swamped Asian countries. (Park E. 2000)

This opinion is supported by many other studies. For example, a study by Hall (1995) states that it was found that those Asian women who have become more acculturated to Western ideals and values… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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