A new study of African-American girls finds that body dissatisfaction can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression, and an increased risk for suicide.
Dr. Rashelle Musci and colleagues from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University found that mood disorders and a dissatisfied body image placed the girls at higher risk for turning their emotions inward — displaying “internalizing” symptoms such as suicide.
Western culture places a significant focus on appearance, especially among girls and women. This cultural underpinning drives many to develop eating behavioral problems.
The most frequently occurring problem eating behaviors are binge eating, or eating large amounts of food in a short period of time and feeling out of control while eating.
This behavior leads to shame, embarrassment, distress and an attempt to conceal it.
For the study, found in the journal Prevention Science, Musci and colleagues investigated how depressive and anxious symptoms may be precursors to binge eating behaviors and suicidal outcomes in 313 black females.
Study participants were followed for 11 years, from the ages of approximately 6-17 years old. Teacher, parent, and child interviews were carried out, examining levels of anxiety, depression, satisfaction with physical appearance, and eating behaviors, particularly binge eating.
The researchers also noted who had reported a suicide attempt during the study period.
The African-American females demonstrated dissatisfaction with their physical appearance, which predicted the development of depressive and anxious symptoms in adolescence.
These, in turn, predicted binge eating behaviors. Adolescent girls with more binge eating behaviors also reported more suicide attempts.
Researchers believe the study shows that a culturally competent intervention program could effectively reduce risk for this and other population groups.
The authors conclude: “The relationships found in this study offer prevention scientists a unique opportunity to target individuals at high risk of psychiatric problems by intervening in the case of binge eating problems.
“Our results also support the importance of developing prevention programs that are culturally relevant to individuals.”