Friday, March 20, 2009

Study: African-American girls are 50 percent more likely to be bulimic than white girls

Eating disorders have long been characterized as a problem primarily affecting wealthy, white women and teenagers. But new research shows that black girls are more likely than whites to be bulimic.

Young women from low-income households were also more likely to be affected by bulimia, researchers found.

The study is based on information from a government database of 2,300 girls from schools in California, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

Girls were surveyed annually about their eating habits and body image between ages 9 and 20, and equal numbers of blacks and whites were included in the survey.

About 2.6 percent of black girls were found to be bulimic, compared to 1.7 percent of whites, the study said.

In addition, 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.

Lead researcher Michelle Goeree said 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.

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