All-Girls Schools See Higher Rates of Eating Disorders

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School age girls are well known to be at the highest risk for eating disorders. Now, a recent study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests school environments themselves may contribute to some girl being at a higher risk than others.

reading girlAccording to the findings, teenage girls who are enrolled in an all-girls school are at least twice as likely to have an eating disorder compared to those receiving an education in mixed schools.

The researchers from Oxford University also found a higher rate of eating disorders in schools with high rates of university-educated parents, which leads them to believe these heightened risks could be part of an “aspirational culture.”

“For a long time clinicians in the field have noted that they seem to see more young people with eating disorders from some schools than others, but this is the first empirical evidence that this is the case,” said child and adolescent psychiatrist and lead researcher Dr. Helen Bould, who worked with other scientists from the University of Bristol, UCL, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.

For the study, the researchers evaluated over 55,000 Swedish students who finished secondary education between 2002 and 2010. The data collected from the evaluations found 2.4 percent of those assessed suffered from an eating disorder. However, when accounting for individual factors, the team noted the rates varied significantly depending on a student’s background and school environment.

In particular, those attending all-girls school or from well-educated families were twice as likely (3.3%) as those from mixed schools or more working-class backgrounds (1.3%) to experience an eating disorder.

The findings lead the researchers to believe peer behavior and school cultures are contributing to higher rates of eating disorders, however, more research will have to be done to deduce exactly what factors are driving up the number of young girls developing eating disorders.

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