Relationship Between Environmental Factors and Anorexia Nervosa in Adolescent Girls

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Relationship Between Environmental Factors and Anorexia Nervosa in Adolescent Girls

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a visible, psychological illness that is detrimental to both the physical and mental well-being of an individual (Bulik et al., 2005). It is an eating disorder that is characterized by not only an unwillingness to gain weight, but a fear of gaining weight. Individuals suffering from anorexia are often perfectionists, who are neurotic, obsessive, and retain a low sense of self-esteem (Kaye et al., 2008; Bulik et al., 2005). These individuals tend to prioritize their physical image over their health, and as a result, AN has retained the highest mortality rate over any other psychiatric illness, occurring at a prevalence of 5% per decade of the entire human population (Bulik et al., 2005). It has also been observed that the occurrence of anorexia nervosa is significantly greater in the female population when compared to the occurrence in the male population, with the average age of onset starting between 15 and 19 years old (Bulik et al., 2005). The direct cause of AN is unknown, but through excessive amounts of scientific exploring, many researchers have concluded that anorexia is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, categorizing it as a familial disease (Kaye et al., 2008). This positive correlation between gene-environment is often seen in offspring of parents who previously suffered from AN. They are seen as having a “double disadvantage,” as not only do they inherit the unidentified genes that increase the risk of AN, but they are exposed to an environment which increases the chances of the expression of those genes linked with anorexia (Bulik et al., 2005). This does not necessarily mean that all individuals who suffer from this eating disorder are predisposed to having AN, as the influence of environmental factors are much greater than that of genetic influence. In the study done by Peterson, Paulson & Williams (2007), they examined the three most influential factors that are associated with the development of anorexia in adolescents: maternal influence, peer influence, and media influence. More importantly, they wanted to find out to what extent is each sociocultural influence associated with the development of eating disorders and the patterns of relation between each factor. In this quantitative study, 333 adolescent girls and boys, grades 10-12, from a public high school in suburban Detroit made up the sample. Eating disorder symptoms were assessed using two tests: the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT) and the Eating Disorder Inventory-Second Edition (EDI-2). In this study, the bulimia category of the EDI-2 was disregarded as it overlaps with the bulimia subscale in the EAT. The influence of a sociocultural factor was evaluated using The Sociocultural Attitudes Towards Appearance Questionnaire-3 (SATAQ-3), which was developed by Thompson and van den Berg (2004). The SATAQ-3 was originally developed to assess the pressures of media, but researchers in this study modified it to also assess the pressures from mothers and peers, using a 5-point Likert-type scale for the adolescents to answer the questions. Results showed that on average, female adolescents had a greater desire to diet and strive for thinness than male adolescents, and their level of body dissatisfaction was larger on average as well (Peterson et al., 2007). The maternal and media influence was not as great in boys as it was in girls, and the perceived pressures by peers was equal in both sexes, having little to no influence (Peterson et al., 2007). Peterson, Paulson & Williams (2007), concluded that maternal and media pressures in adolescent females is strong and due to these strong influences, females often lack body satisfaction, a result of low self-esteem, and strive to be more physically attractive. In order to satisfy the image expected by the environment around them, these females are then more likely to diet,...
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