In recent research, the prevalence of eating disorders in non-western countries is starting to become more apparent. Though anorexia nervosa is becoming more frequent in scientific literature, the overall presence of eating disorders in non-western countries is alarming. Some researchers say that anorexia nervous is not a western bound disorder (1). This paper will focus on the general characteristic of eating disorders in non-western countries, and show that anorexia is not the primary problem and should not be the sole target in research.
Moreover, the presence of any eating disorder is a precursor that could lead to a preventable eating disorder epidemic including anorexia nervosa. Several studies have examined women from Japanese, Indian, Iranian, Korean, and Chinese cultures and evaluated different variables that would diagnosis eating disorders and the factors that attribute to them. The current dominant argument is western pressures to be thin which are transplanted through media.
Though western influence has proven to have a great impact on non-western countries, the unique cultural values have been shown to either add to pressures to be thin or protect them with values of culture. First of all, within the past decade, there have been more efforts to make the effects and treatment of eating disorder syndromes. This increase in awareness could be a factor in the current trend to solve the global problem of eating disorders. However it is important to note recent movements and advances in these countries.
As with more technological advances, more adolescent are exposed to western culture, which can precede eating disorder syndromes, and eventually lead to anorexia nervosa. With more western influence attributing to socio-cultural pressure, the same holds true to more resources and information to diagnosis and treat eating disorders. So, the recent prevalence of anorexia nervosa must take into account more means and awareness to diagnosis and document eating disorder activity in western countries.
The theory that western culture influences non-western countries is very much apparent and embraced by the scientific community. The same holds true to the pressures placed on non-western adolescents to conform to the unrealistic body and beauty standards placed on the current generation. This pressure to obtain the thin body image is undoubtedly one of the factors attributed to the current eating disorder in western countries. More over, there has been increased prevalence of eating disorders, like Anorexia Nervosa in non-western countries.
Jackson and Chen (2) illuminate the pressure on non western countries when they discuss their correlation of Chinese females in families with high estimated income were more likely to show an eating pathology in the future. They attributed this due to the increase expose and availability of western media. In a two trans-cultural comparison, takes the western influence to a new perspective when they describe the stresses of facing new cultures, which they called acculturation stress. This supports that western influence can negatively affect the eating habits of adolescence.
Walker(6), In a cross-cultural comparison, Walker looked at three different types of groups. Group one were British women living in the United Kingdom; group two were Japanese women living in Japan; and group three were Japanese women living in the United Kingdom. Walker looked at the emotional eating stress and found that emotional eating is not the problem in non-western cultures, as there was no correlation between the different groups. So this shows that the problem in non-western countries is due more to cultural pressure rather than psychopathology associated with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa.
It is important to note, that though western countries follow a general epidemiology for eating disorders, the same is not true for non-western countries. In looking at journal articles from various non western countries, it is seen that each county has a unique variable or factor that could explain the cause as to why that culture does not follow the same epidemiological trend as western countries, or even other non-western countries. Research shows that the history of the countries with particular emphasis on the economy or recent movement in religion or technology can influence the adolescent image.
For example, Korea under went rapid changes in is economy after the world war. (1) This era in Korea had western influence mixed with traditional Korean values. (1) This transition phase is what is thought to be the start of the spread of the increase in eating disorders. This also holds true in Iran; but in the opposite way. In 1979, Iran had a revolution that re introduced Islamic values compared to the western influence prior to 1979(4). This study showed that strongest evidence of anorexia nervosa in non-western countries.
Nobakhi (4) showed that Iran was falling into the same epidemiological pattern as western countries of having a higher prevalence of anorexia nervosa compared to bulimia nervosa. This study show statistics of the prevalence of bulimia nervosa in non-western countries like Egypt and Pakistan, and compares Iran’s data with countries like Switzerland, England, and Beglin. He found that Iranian girls in non-western schools had more common traits in bulimia nervosa. Whereas, in Iran, there are more traits of Anorexia nervosa present in the adolescent population. 4) This supports that idea that every demographic is different, and different and specific interventions to tackle eating disorders need to be considered. Though the history behind the society build up what makes each non-western country unique in the cultural implications on society. For example, the Korean societies traditionally have women marry in to prominent families through modern day matchmakers (1). This particular effect puts huge emphasis on not only meeting a societal standard but also bringing the family honor.
This is an excess socio-cultural pressure causes fear of gaining weight, and leave Korean women vulnerable to meet standards of beauty. In comparison Srinivasan (5) argues that the differences in attitude toward body weight and shape is the difference in the prevalence and out break in India. Srinivasan says that certain populations are vulnerable to a server eating disorder epidemic due to the increase in western culture, attitudes in behaviors. (5) However, comparatively to China, India has a ‘formes fruste’ which is when a cultural attitude protects a population form developing into sever conflicts regarding image, and body weight.
That I find most interesting is that eating disorders is a disorder that can affect anybody. It transcends all genetic, cultural, and political barriers. It seems that the door has been open for non-western countries to not only progress with positive western influence, but also feed into the negative attributes that characterize adolescents in the west. Though anorexia nervosa is a serious disease, the literature shows that bulimia nervous is the current major problem in non-western countries, in general.
However, research shows that as non-western countries evolve in economic status and become more modern and influenced by the west, so will the societal pressures to be thin. It is in the best interest of these countries and the responsibility that the awareness of the preventable epidemic in educated to the public and politicians of these countries. Its important to not generalize interventions based on western or non-western epidemiology. More over, that each demographic need to have interventions that are unique and specific to the population they are targeting.
Jackson, S. C. , Keel, P. K. , & Ho Lee, Y. (2006). Trans-cultural comparison of disordered eating in korean women. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 39(6), 498-502. 2. Jackson, T. , & Chen, H. (2008). Predicting changes in eating disorder symptoms among chinese adolescents: A 9-month prospective study. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 64(1), 87-95. 3. Khandelwal, S. K. , Sharan, P. , & Saxena, S. (1995). Eating disorders: An indian perspective. The International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 41(2), 132-146. 4. Nobakht, M. , & Dezhkam, M. (2000).
An epidemiological study of eating disorders in iran. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 28(3), 265-271. 5. Srinivasan, TN, Suresh, TR, & Jayaram, V. (1998). Emergence of eating disorders in india. study of eating distress syndrome and development of a screening questionaire. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 44(3), 189-198. 6. Waller, G. , & Matoba, M. (1999). Emotional eating and eating psychopathology in nonclinical groups: A cross-cultural comparison of women in japan and the united kingdom. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 26(3), 333-340.