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New study refutes bulimia as “rich, white girl’s disease”

20th March 2009

New study refutes bulimia as “rich, white girl’s disease”

posted in Eating Disorders |

Eating disorders are often thought to be a “rich white girl’s disease,” but a new study shows that black girls and girls from low-income families are more likely to develop bulimia than their wealthier white counterparts.  The study is based on information from a government database of 2,300 girls from schools in California, Ohio and Washington D.C.  The girls were surveyed annually about their eating habits and body image between the ages of 9 and 20.  The study included an equal number of blacks and whites.

About 2.6 percent of black girls were found to be bulimic, compared to 1.7 percent of whites.  Bulimia affected 3.3 percent of girls whose parents had a high school education, compared to 1.5 percent of girls in households where at least one parent had a college degree. In other words, black girls are 50 percent more likely than whites to develop bulimia, while girls in low income brackets are 153 percent more likely to develop bulimia than girls in the highest income bracket. Lead researcher Michelle Goeree explains:

{…}the misconception that eating disorders are a “white woman’s” problem comes from previous studies that focused on hospital admission data, which wouldn’t include girls who don’t seek professional help for their illness. In most states, treatment for eating disorders isn’t covered by insurance.

“Who goes to the hospital? Those who have insurance. Who tends to have insurance? Wealthier, better-educated people,” said Goeree, an economist at the University of Southern California.

Goeree said minority parents also may be less likely to recognize bulimic behavior, such as purging in their children.

If there’s any good news to be had from the study’s findings, it’s this, as reported in the Chicago Sun Times:

The study has important policy implications: Based on their findings about the persistence of bulimic behavior and who is afflicted, the researchers argue that bulimia, which is currently classified as a disorder, would perhaps be more accurately described — and treated — as an addiction. As with drug and alcohol addictions, this would mean more federal, state and local treatment programs and fewer out-of-pocket insurance costs.

The findings also affect educational spending: “What we thought was that bulimia affects high income, high education white women. And, if that’s the case, then you should try to tailor educational programs — because education is expensive — to the group that it will help the most,” Goeree explains. “Now we’re finding that it’s really important to reach a completely different group than we thought.”

For more information on eating disorders among women of color, see here.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 20th, 2009 at 9:19 am and is filed under Eating Disorders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 7 responses to “New study refutes bulimia as “rich, white girl’s disease””

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  1. 1 On March 20th, 2009, Jen said:

    “while girls in low income brackets are 153 percent more likely to develop bulimia than girls in the highest income bracket.”

    Is that 1 supposed to be in front of the 53 percent there? It makes it confusing to read. But yay for real research!

  2. 2 On March 20th, 2009, Rachel said:

    Yes, surprisingly so. I just didn’t bold print the “1.” It’s fixed now.

  3. 3 On March 20th, 2009, littlem said:

    *sigh* Well. Better late than never.
    I guess I should be grateful they’re actually using women/girls, instead of men/boys, for their statistical sample, as compared to the data most medical studies are based on.

  4. 4 On March 23rd, 2009, Links - 2009-03-23 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture said:

    [...] The F-word.org – New Study Refutes Bulimia as “Rich, White Girl’s Disease” Eating disorders are often thought to be a “rich white girl’s disease,” but a new study shows that black girls and girls from low-income families are more likely to develop bulimia than their wealthier white counterparts. The study is based on information from a government database of 2,300 girls from schools in California, Ohio and Washington D.C. The girls were surveyed annually about their eating habits and body image between the ages of 9 and 20. The study included an equal number of blacks and whites. [...]

  5. 5 On March 24th, 2009, Commentator said:

    Umm for all we know the entire sample of black women were low income, which would make the study more illustrative of low-income being more predictive of bulimia and in terms of race, showing that some wealthy whites also engage in this behavior.

    And this is not even taking into account that there are no details of this study in the above or referenced link.

    Nice try trying to repackage this issue as yet another black deficiency but you fail. White people have this.

  6. 6 On March 24th, 2009, Rachel said:

    Black deficiency? An eating disorder isn’t a “deficiency” regardless of the race or class of the person who develops it. The fact that you regard a legitimate medical condition as a “deficiency” speaks volumes about your own biases.

  7. 7 On November 10th, 2009, Not Applicable said:

    I am a sufferer from a combination of Anorexia and Bulimia… I was never “rich”… I was told at 85 lbs I was fat… I was born in to a sex cult… I never heard bulimia was a “Rich girl’s disease”… Yes, that’s why so many bulimics harm themselves… Eating Disorders are a coping skill… I am not black… I have actually seen less blacks in ED clinics than whites… Not saying it is not possible, but I have been forced in treatment 8 times… And again, IT IS A COPING SKILL!! Which means ANY RACE can be diagnosed…

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