Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Black Girls and Bulimia: Stereotypes Gone Wrong?


A new study shows black girls are 50% more likely to have bulimia than white girls. Those from households with the lowest incomes were 153% more likely to have bulimia than the most affluent girls. So much for the poor-little-waspy-rich-girl stereotype. Binging and purging are clearly not the sole realm of the Gossip Girl set, nor lead character Blair Waldorf who according to Science Daily fought off bulimia this season. Sure, the study hasn't been published yet but the researchers, economists dabbling in the realm of psychology, did follow girls for 10 years, regularly asking about eating behavior. It goes against much what has been written about bulimia for the past few decades. It might be a fluke finding or it could signal if not a change in the incidence of eating disorders then a neglected set of girls in the literature not to mention treatment centers.

Here're some stats thanks to Science Daily:

"Black girls were 50 percent more likely than white girls to exhibit bulimic behavior, including both binging and purging. About 2.6 percent of black girls were clinically bulimic, compared to 1.7 percent of white girls. Overall, approximately 2.2 percent of the girls surveyed were clinically bulimic, close to the national average.

Black girls scored an average of 17 percentage points higher than their white counterparts on the widely used medical index gauging of the severity of the bulimia, the researchers found."

The ethnicity gap narrows if we're looking at bulimia versus the less severe, "sub-clinical" bulimic behavior.

I wonder if we've been getting eating disorders wrong in terms of causes, prevention, treatment too. But more importantly if this study holds up our health experts may be dissing a large portion of girls who we've assumed at low risk. And seeing as many of the African American teens in the study battled with "sub-clinical" bulimia, their disordered eating runs the risk of being dismissed, ignored or otherwised left unnoticed and untreated.

Someone at Science Daily seems to be quite familiar with Gossip Girl's eating disorder plot line. I don't expect to read about teen soaps plot lines on my go-to site for science news. Anyone else bothered by this pop culture ref?

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