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Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and culture

Posted Jun 23 2009 10:04pm 1 Comment
I know I write a lot on biology, and its importance in relation to eating disorders. Part of this is because I strongly believe in the importance of biology, and part of this is that I feel the cultural issues surrounding EDs get plenty of coverage already, so I tend to leave them alone.

But there was some interesting new research that looked at the relationship between negative mood, body image, and EDs in two different cultures. The authors compared groups of anorexic and healthy women from both France and Poland, and looked at how symptoms and duration of depression and anxiety affected both body image and eating disorder symptoms. Even considering that both groups of women were from Europe (though one from behind the Iron Curtain and one, well, not), the researchers still found differences between the two groups.

Both groups of anorexic women had higher anxiety and depression than healthy women, but the Polish anorexics had higher levels of depression than French anorexics. Depression in the anorexic Polish women increased both with age and Body Mass Index, but had no relationship to how long the women had been ill.

In the group of Polish women, high levels of anxiety corresponded to high levels of maturity fears and interoceptive awareness (i.e., the physical state of your body, like hunger, thirst, etc). In the French women, however, high levels of depression corresponded to higher levels of bulimia, ineffectiveness, interpersonal distrust, interoceptive awareness and maturity fears.

I'm not discounting the importance or relevance of the specific correlations the authors found, but that's not what I found really interesting. What this study says to me is that symptoms of anxiety and depression are important in the development of eating disorders no matter what culture you're from. But the details of this relationship can vary depending on your environment. Which just makes a whole lot of sense: people with EDs aren't (oh, the pun!) cookie-cutter people. Although there are remarkable similarities in people suffering from EDs, there are lots of differences, too.
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