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Cultural Factors Influencing Eating Disorders

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Written by
Dr. Simon Robbins
  • Icon Calendar 19 May 2024
  • Icon Page 798 words
  • Icon Clock 4 min read
English (United States)
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Cultural practices and values may increase or lower the chances of developing different eating disorders. The eating styles of people are influenced by various ideals that they have about body weight and physical appearance. Moving to a new cultural setting is also likely to influence what people consume and their eating habits. Cultural factors, such as family structure, norm ideals, and sex-role stereotyping, influence eating disorders.

Cultural Expectations and Family Structure

Cultural expectations for each group, including family dynamics, influence the risk of developing eating disorders. In different cultures, various factors, such as gender, level of education, social class, acceptable values, and ableism, influence the risk of developing eating disorders.1 In each group, people encourage or discourage certain practices that may cause or prevent these health conditions. For example, Asian American women suffering from anorexia nervosa show little or no sign of fatphobia, indicating that cultural expectations influence clinical presentations.2 Even though the fear of being fat is common in patients with this eating disorder, cultural values held by Asians cause them not to experience it. Lastly, family structure differs from one culture to the other and may encourage or discourage practices that cause eating disorders.3 Acceptable values relating to eating styles in families and the relationship between relatives have an impact on what one consumes and can lead to health conditions, such as anorexia. As a result, cultural expectations, including family values, influence eating disorders.

1. Ashley Acle, Brian J. Cook, Nicole Siegfried, and Tammy Beasley. “Cultural Considerations in the Treatment of Eating Disorders Among Racial/Ethnic Minorities: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 52, no. 5 (2021): 480, https://doi.org/10.1177/00220221211017664.

2. Acle et al., “Cultural Considerations,” 469.

3. Acle et al., 469.

Cultural Factors Influencing Eating Disorders

Norm Ideals and Change in Cultural Setting

Various norm ideals that individuals from different cultures uphold influence eating disorders, especially if they try to adapt to a new environment. Culture impacts the perceptions that people have about body image, and this aspect can lead to body dissatisfaction.4 Individuals may develop eating disorders if they idealize slender bodies or become overly concerned about body weight and shape. Moreover, moving into a new cultural setting and experiencing acculturative stress contribute to eating disorders.5 Migrating exposes people to different sociocultural values and may further influence their psychological well-being, leading to eating disorders as they struggle to adapt to the new environment. Eating disorders are becoming common in non-Western societies and rural areas despite the fact that these conditions were associated with practices in the West.6 While culture influences the risk of developing these diseases, the relationship is complex. Therefore, norm ideals held by any particular group of people and changes in cultural settings can cause or help prevent eating disorders.

4. Elizabeth McNaught, Janet Treasure, and Nick Pollard, Eating Disorders (Oxford University Press, 2022), 24.

5. McNaught et al., Eating Disorders, 25.

6. McNaught et al., 24.

Sex-Role Stereotyping in Different Cultures

Cultural factors, such as how people consider gender roles, contribute to stereotyping and increase the risk of developing eating disorders. In different cultural settings, perceptions about beauty and social expectations are that women should be thin or slender.7 These values may be upheld by parents, peers, and educators and can lead to eating disorders as girls or women change eating habits to meet these social pressures. For example, African American girls show little concern over body weight and are less likely to experience eating disorders as compared to White females.8 Different cultural values held by each group impact the prevalence of conditions, such as anorexia and bulimia. Hence, sex-role stereotyping differs from one culture to the other and can lead to eating disorders as women avoid certain foods to meet specific expectations.

7. Edward P. Sarafino and Timothy W. Smith, Health Psychology: Biopsychosocial Interactions (John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2022), 221.

8. Sarafino and Smith, Health Psychology, 221.


Family structure, norm ideals, and sex-role stereotyping in different cultures influence eating disorders. Cultural expectations and practices in family structures affect the meals that people consume. Moreover, individuals from various cultures uphold norm ideals that may lead to developing eating disorders. For this reason, acculturative stress resulting from changing cultural settings can cause these health conditions. Finally, culture can cause eating disorders in women because it influences gender roles and leads to stereotyping by impacting perceptions of the physical appearance of females.


Acle, Ashley, Brian J. Cook, Nicole Siegfried, and Tammy Beasley. “Cultural Considerations in the Treatment of Eating Disorders Among Racial/Ethnic Minorities: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 52, no. 5 (2021): 468–488. https://doi.org/10.1177/00220221211017664.

McNaught, Elizabeth, Janet Treasure, and Nick Pollard. Eating Disorders. Oxford University Press, 2022.

Sarafino, Edward P., and Timothy W. Smith. Health Psychology: Biopsychosocial Interactions. John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2022.

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