How Culture Affects Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that affect individuals of all ages and backgrounds. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, over 30 million individuals in the United States struggle with an eating disorder. While eating disorders can develop due to various reasons, culture plays a vital role in influencing one’s relationship with food and body image. In this article, we will explore the different ways that culture can impact eating disorders.

Using Case Studies to Explore Cultural Influences

Examining case studies is an effective way to understand cultural influences on eating disorders. Individuals from different cultures experience unique challenges when it comes to their relationship with food and body image. For example, a study conducted in Fiji found that girls who were exposed to Western television were more likely to develop eating disorders because the glorified slim body types.

Another case study based in China found that eating disorders were relatively unknown in the country until recent years when Western influences became more prominent. However, despite this change, individuals are still influenced by traditional Chinese beauty standards that value thinness as an ideal.

Culture and Beauty Standards

Cultural beauty standards play a significant role in eating disorders, particularly for women. Different cultures have different ideals of what constitutes beauty, and these standards can be problematic when they glorify unrealistic body types. In some cultures, such as Northern Europe and North America, thinness is a highly desirable trait. This standard has led to a severe rise in eating disorders in these regions.

Similarly, in some cultures, curves and a fuller body type are desirable. This standard can also lead to eating disorders as individuals attempt to live up to those expectations by overeating or using other unhealthy methods to gain weight.

The Role of Family and Community

Family and community play a significant role in shaping one’s relationship with food. Cultural norms and family habits can contribute to the development of eating disorders. For example, individuals from cultures that place a lot of emphasis on hospitality and food may feel compelled to eat more, leading to overeating. On the other hand, families that prioritize health and fitness may put pressure on their children to achieve a particular body type, leading to an eating disorder.

Cultural Beliefs About Mental Health

Culture can also impact the way someone perceives mental health issues such as eating disorders. In many cultures, mental illness is stigmatized, making it harder for individuals to seek help. This stigma can also put pressure on individuals who are struggling with an eating disorder to keep it hidden, leading to delayed treatment and a worsening of symptoms.

Furthermore, in some cultures, mental illness is viewed as a weakness or a moral failing rather than a genuine medical problem. This perception can lead to guilt and shame in individuals with an eating disorder, making it harder for them to accept help or attend therapy sessions.

Honoring Cultural Identity in Treatment

It is crucial to consider cultural identity when treating individuals with eating disorders. A one-size-fits-all approach to treatment is not effective, as each culture has unique values and norms that impact one’s relationship with food. It is essential that healthcare professionals work to understand an individual’s cultural background and tailor treatment to their specific needs.

For example, a treatment that considers someone’s cultural identity will factor in their dietary requirements and nutritional norms. Healthcare providers can also provide education on the ways that culture can impact body image and offer culturally sensitive mental health support options.


Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that are impacted by cultural values, norms, and beliefs. By examining case studies and cultural beauty standards, we can see how culture plays a significant role in shaping one’s relationship with food and body image. Family and community influence can also contribute to developing eating disorders. It’s crucial to acknowledge how cultural beliefs about mental health can make it harder for individuals to seek help and offer treatment options that uphold cultural identity. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

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By Happy Sharer

Hi, I'm Happy Sharer and I love sharing interesting and useful knowledge with others. I have a passion for learning and enjoy explaining complex concepts in a simple way.

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