Prevalence, Correlates and Moderators of Eating Pathology in New Zealand Women, Adolescent and Preadolescent Girls.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Despite the fact that eating disorders (EDs) and their subclinical variants are important health concerns, very little research has examined eating pathology and body image, including the factors that may contribute to their development, in New Zealand. Based on the Sociocultural Model of Eating Pathology, this thesis comprises four studies that aimed to identify the factors that may interact with different parts of this model to predict eating pathology. As part of each study, the cross-cultural validity of the assessment measures used was also examined. Across all four studies, the prevalence rates of eating pathology and associated pathology were comparable to overseas estimates. Participants for Study One were 243 adolescent girls recruited from secondary school in Christchurch, New Zealand. Participants completed questionnaires assessing eating pathology, body dissatisfaction, negative affect, perfectionism, self-esteem, teasing and perceived sociocultural pressure. Regression analyses demonstrated that body dissatisfaction, socially prescribed (SP) perfectionism and negative affect uniquely predicted eating pathology in the adolescent sample. Moderator analyses indicated that high levels of SP and self-oriented (SO) perfectionism, negative affect, perceived pressure from others and the media, and low levels of self-esteem all increased the effect of body dissatisfaction on eating pathology among adolescents. Study Two examined the same risk factors among 170 preadolescent girls from primary schools in Christchurch, New Zealand, and found that body dissatisfaction, SP perfectionism and teasing independently predicted eating pathology. High levels of SO and SP perfectionism, perceived media pressure and low levels of self-esteem strengthened the body dissatisfaction-eating pathology relation. The goal of Study Three was to test the factors that serve to amplify the risk of internalising societal standards of thinness among 202 university women recruited from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. The participants completed questionnaires measuring perfectionism, sociocultural pressure to be thin, anorectic cognitions and anti-fat attitudes. Results indicated that social pressure and information about appearance standards independently predicted thin ideal internalization but no statistically significant moderators were found. Finally, taking another approach to studying women at high or low risk for eating problems, Study Four sought to examine and describe the characteristics of women with a high body mass index (BMI; kg/m2) who were not dissatisfied with their bodies and also women who were dissatisfied with their bodies but were not engaging in pathological eating behaviour. Participants were 166 university women recruited from the University of Canterbury who completed the Personality Assessment Inventory (1991) and questionnaires relating to body dissatisfaction and eating pathology. Both of the above-mentioned groups were characterised by lower overall distress, such as lower levels of anxiety, depression and borderline features. Overall, this research suggests that disordered eating and body image concerns occur among New Zealand women, adolescent and preadolescent girls at rates similar to Europe and North America. There was reasonable support for the validity of many of the assessment measures used. The research also highlights some factors that may influence the development of eating pathology among these populations and provides possible leads for future longitudinal research and, ultimately, prevention efforts.