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Researchers: Cultural factors take backseat in eating disorder treatment

November 14, 2017
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Cultural and social factors that might affect the development of eating disorders are largely ignored in treatment, even when a patient actively seeks to address them, a new research report suggests.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom say gender issues that could be related to eating disorders have been pushed aside amid an emphasis on evidence-based treatment and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Treating professionals might ignore a patient's request to talk about gender issues because they lack experience in this area or because they see the topic as relatively unimportant.

“The bottom line is that, although eating disorders are now widely recognized as being shaped by biological, psychological and social factors, the social aspect of the equation is poorly served,” said lead researcher Su Holmes, of the university's School of Art, Media and American Studies. The paper was published in the journal Eating Disorders.

Holmes and a university occupational therapist developed an inpatient treatment intervention in which female patients with anorexia attended 10 weeks of group sessions examining topics such as gender-related constructions of appetite, cultural expectations surrounding female emotion, and the dynamics of healthy-living standards targeting women. The participating women appreciated the intervention's examination of broad contexts that shape ideas about gender in society, Science Daily reported.

Holmes emphasizes, however, that gender identity issues in the development of eating disorders are not relegated to women only. “The focus on how eating and body distress may be ued to negotiate dominant ideas about gender and sexuality is similarly applicable to male patients, as well as gender minorities, even whilst the cultural constructions at stake may be different,” she said.