Bulimia more likely to affect poor than rich

A 10-year survey conducted by the University of Southern California Institute of Economic Policy Research revealed information about bulimia that runs counter to the common notion that it primarily affects privileged caucasian girls. Beginning when the participants were 9 or 10, the researchers regularly queried girls’ behaviour. Perhaps the most important information to be reported is that bulimia is an addictive behaviour that can persist over many years. Other findings of the study include:

  • Girls from the lowest-income families were more likely to engage in bulimic behaviour than their peers from wealthier homes.
  • Parents’ education also played a role. Girls whose parents had a high school education or less were far more likely to engage in bulimic behaviour.
  • When race was considered, African-American girls were about 50% more likely to engage in binging and purging. Their symptoms were also more severe than those of the caucasian girls.

The researchers argued that bulimia should be classified as an addiction rather than a disorder, and that insurance companies should provide the same treatment given to other addictions. Preventative education programs were also recommended.

The addiction model isn’t new in terms of treatment. A few years ago, I attended a workshop on the treatment of eating disorders run by a psychiatrist. Based on the available research at the time and children’s response to treatment, it was recommended that anorexia and bulimia be treated using the same methods used to treat drug abuse.

Were you as surprised by these findings as the researchers were? Leave us a comment!

You can read the full study here (PDF). If you’re not interested in the equations and statistics, a summary is provided here.

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