Eating Disorder Attitudinal and Behavioral Symptoms Among a Diverse College Sample: The Role of Family Factors and Peer Influence
Winters, Natalie F.
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Recognition of the importance of the role of family factors to eating disorders dates back to 1873 when Lasegue highlighted the importance of family in the explanation of anorexia nervosa. A positive relationship between family dysfunction and disordered eating has been routinely cited in the literature; however, there are many studies that have been published in which family dysfunction is related to other psychiatric disorders as well (Fairburn et al., 1997). Thus, there is an emerging need to examine specific factors of the family that are associated with disordered eating. A significant relationship between maternal commentary about weight and shape and disordered eating among daughters has been cited in the literature (Annus et al., 2007). Family functioning and negative paternal commentary regarding body shape and eating have been associated with increased disordered eating and have been shown to fully mediate the relationship between family dysfunction and disordered eating. In addition to maternal commentary, influence from peers to be thin has also been found to be significantly related to eating disorders among females. Furthermore, peer influence has emerged as a stronger predictor of eating disorder symptoms among college women compared to family influence (van den Berg et al., 2002). Thus, it appears important to assess peer influence when examining eating pathology among college women. To date, numerous studies regarding disordered eating have been conducted among Caucasian women; however, the cultural make-up of college student populations is increasingly becoming more diverse (Snyder et al., 2005), underscoring the importance of examining predictors of eating disorder symptomatology among women from diverse racial and ethnic groups. Therefore, the purpose of the current study is to examine the relation of general family functioning, negative maternal commentary regarding body shape and eating, and peer influence among Hispanic and Caucasian college women. The research questions are as follows: (1) To what extent does negative maternal commentary about body shape and eating mediate the relationship between general family functioning to behavioral and attitudinal eating disorder symptoms among Hispanic and Caucasian college women? (2) What is the relative contribution of peers and mothers’ messages regarding body shape and eating to Hispanic and Caucasian college women’s behavioral and attitudinal eating disorder symptoms? (3) Does peer influence moderate the relationship of mother’s commentary about weight and body shape to behavioral and attitudinal eating disorder symptoms? The sample will consist of approximately 300 Caucasian and Hispanic undergraduate women for the University of Houston. Students will be recruited through sororities and through university courses. Participants will complete a demographic questionnaire, the Family Assessment Device (measure of family functioning), the Eating Disorder Examination – Questionnaire (measure of eating disorder attitudinal symptoms and behavioral symptoms), the Peer Influence Scale (measure of cues from peers to obtain or attain a thin body shape), the Family Experiences Related to Food Questionnaire – Mother (measure of maternal commentary about body shape and weight), and the Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican-Americans II (measure of acculturation to western culture). Four series of regression analyses will be conducted to assess the extent to which the relationship between family functioning and eating disorder attitudinal and behavioral symptoms is mediated by maternal commentary among Caucasian and Hispanic college women. Two additional hierarchical regression analyses will be conducted to examine the combined and unique contribution of negative maternal commentary and peer influence to eating disorder attitudinal and behavioral symptoms as well as the extent to which peer influence moderates the relationship between maternal commentary and eating disorder attitudinal and behavioral symptoms among Caucasian and Hispanic college women.