With some studies finding that nearly two-thirds of female college students have an undiagnosed or mild eating disorder, researchers at the University of Michigan set out this week to compile the most comprehensive study to date on the attitudes and behaviors of university students on eating and body image.

Research also shows that most college students want to lose weight and engage in perpetual dieting. Some experts suggest that about 60 percent of college women diet or binge and 69 percent use diet pills, diuretics, fasting or purging to control their weight.

Researchers say the prevalence of bulimia nervosa among college women is reported to be as high as nearly 1 in 5 women.

Moreover, 9 percent of college men also experience eating problems with 3 percent reporting binge eating and self-induced vomiting.

Despite what is known about disordered eating on college campuses, U-M researchers believe there is more to be done to understand and respond to these issues.

For the new study, a multidisciplinary team of faculty, researchers and counselors have developed a survey termed U-SHAPE.

“U-SHAPE’s large-scale web-based survey is designed to gather important information about the ways in which individual characteristics as well as the campus environment influence students’ relationships with eating, dieting, exercise and body image, and how these relationships, in turn, fit into a larger picture of student mental health,” said researcher and doctoral student Sarah Ketchen Lipson.

“The goal is that data gathered through U-SHAPE will inform policy and programming on our campus and at colleges and universities across the country.”

Dr. Suzanne Dooley-Hash, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the U-M Health System, has conducted considerable research on adolescent eating disorders. She notes the void that U-SHAPE is poised to fill.

“Most of the studies out there on disordered eating among college students have focused on a specific subset of the student population — athletic teams, psychology classes, sorority members and other smaller, targeted samples,” she said.

“We are conducting our study using a random survey of 10,000 University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students. Our goal is to understand their habits, attitudes and perceptions of eating and body image in a way that can inform future research and practice.”

The U-SHAPE survey was developed with the input of campus administrators and experts in the field of college student mental health, and has been pre-tested with undergraduate and graduate students.

The survey will officially launch Oct. 2 with results expected by the end of the year.

Source: University of Michigan

College student eating photo by shutterstock.