Eating Disorder Symptomotology: The Role of Ethnic Identity in Caucasian and Hispanic College Women



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A relative large number of women on college campuses report experiencing eating afflictions. About 61% of college women indicated that they either occasionally or regularly used extreme measures to control their weight (Mintz & Betz, 1988). No clear consensus on the relative prevalence of eating disorder symptoms across ethnic groups has emerged (Franko et al., 2007). However, previous literature has accentuated the importance of BMI and the internalization of ideals for thinness as important predictive factors for eating disorder symptoms, and thus should be included in an analysis of symptomotology. Moreover, no studies were located that have taken into account ethnic identity when comparing the endorsement of eating disorder symptomotology among Caucasian and Hispanic women.

The purpose of this study was to examine (a) to what extent college women from Hispanic and Caucasian ethnic groups differ in behavioral and attitudinal symptoms of eating disorders, respectively when controlling for BMI, (b) to what extent ethnic identity contributed to behavioral and attitudinal symptomotology, respectively, when controlling for BMI and the internalization thinness as a beauty ideal, and (c) whether ethnicity moderated the relation of ethnic identity to eating disorder behavioral and attitudinal symptoms.

Participants in this study included 264 female students (45% Hispanic, N=119; 55% Caucasian, N=145) at a large urban university in the Southwest United States. The majority of the Hispanic participants identified themselves as second generation (N = 72, 62.2%, SD= 1.27), meaning they were born in the United States, and had one or both parents born in a Latin country. Participants completed Demographics questions, the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDEQ; Fairburn & Beglin, 1994), the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM; Phinney, 1999), and the Sociocultural Attitudes towards Appearance Questionnaire (SATAQ; Heinberg, Thompson, & Stormer, 1995).

Bivariate correlations showed that behavioral and attitudinal eating disorder symptoms were positively and highly correlated to one another for both ethnic groups. For Hispanics, both types of symptoms were positively correlated to BMI and internalization, and negatively correlated to ethnic identity. Results differed for the Caucasian group, with positive significant correlations between attitudinal symptoms to internalization and to BMI. Behavioral symptoms were only significantly correlated with internalization and not BMI. Among Caucasians there were no statistically significant correlations of ethnic identity to any of the variables included in the study. The MANCOVA analysis showed no statistically significant differences in symptomotology between the two ethnic groups. Hierarchical Linear Regressions showed that ethnicity does not moderate the relation of ethnic identity and eating disorder symptoms.



Eating disorders, Symptoms, Ethnicity, Ethnic identity