New research suggests experiencing financial difficulties while attending college may increase the risk of female students developing an eating disorder.
Researchers from University of Southampton also discovered that having extreme attitudes about food and eating predicted short-term financial difficulties for female students, suggesting the possibility of a “vicious cycle” developing.
Dr. Thomas Richardson, a clinical psychologist and lead author of the study, said, “There may be a ‘vicious cycle’ for these students, where negative attitudes towards eating increase the risk of financial difficulties in the short term, and those difficulties further exacerbate negative eating attitudes in the longer term.”
The study has been published online in The International Journal of Eating Disorders.
Investigators looked at the relationship between socioeconomic status and eating attitudes and found problematic eating attitudes were more common in women from less affluent families.
During the course of the study, over 400 undergraduate students, from universities across the UK, completed surveys assessing family affluence, recent financial difficulties, and attitudes towards food and eating using a standardized test.
Examples of financial challenges included being unable to afford heating or having to borrow money.
The dietary battery, called the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT), asks for responses to statements such as “I feel extremely guilty after eating,” “I am preoccupied with a desire to be thinner”, or “I have the impulse to vomit after meals.”
Higher scores in the test represent extreme attitudes and the potential presence of eating disorders.
Students completed the surveys at up to four times, at intervals of three to four months apart. The key findings are as follows:
- A higher level of financial difficulty in the initial surveys corresponded with more severe attitudes toward food and eating in the third and fourth surveys, after accounting for initial eating attitudes;
- Lower family affluence in the baseline survey was associated with higher scores in the Eating Attitudes Test within the final set of surveys;
- Higher baseline EAT scores predicted increased levels of financial difficulty in the second round of surveys, after accounting for initial financial difficulties.
The results indicated a relationship between financial situation and eating disorders in women, but not in men.
Said Richardson, “It may be that those at higher risk of having an eating disorder feel like they have no control over events in their life, such as their financial situation, and they may then restrict their eating as a way of exercising control in other areas of their life.
“These links need to be further explored to determine causal mechanisms for the relationship between financial difficulties and eating attitudes.”
Source: University of Southhampton