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Can a Girl’s School Affect Her Chances of Developing an Eating Disorder?

By Patche99z (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The school a girl attends could affect her risk factor of being diagnosed with an eating disorder. More eating disorders happen in schools that have a higher proportion of female students and those where more parents are university educated.

The Study

This new study and the results are the conclusion that was reached by a team of scientists from the United Kingdom and Sweden. Results of the study were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers from Oxford University, UCL, the University of Bristol, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm used routinely collected information from Sweden to take into consideration individual factors which would make a female more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Even after taking these factors into consideration, there were still differences in the rates of eating disorders, according to the school a female attends.

Eating disorders, including bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder and other eating disorders which don’t fit easily into the diagnostic criteria, affect 5.7 % of adolescent girls. With those statistics, it means almost 2 girls in a class of 30. Eating disorders are serious: someone with bulimia is around two times more likely to die young as someone without it, while someone with anorexia is about 6 times more likely to die young.

Dr. Helen Bould, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry, was the lead researcher of the study. She stated, “Eating disorders have an enormous effect on the lives of young people who suffer from them- it is important to understand the risk factors so that we can address them.”

“For a long time clinicians in the field have noted that they seem to see more young people with eating disorders from schools than others, but this is the first empirical evidence that this is the case,” she further states.
The team accounted for risk factors as diverse as parental income, whether parents had a history of mental illness, parental education level, the number of siblings and birth weight, were just a few. Even allowing for these factors, there are still variations between schools.

Closing

Dr. Bould added, “Unfortunately, this study can’t tell us what it is about schools that affects the rates of eating disorders: it might be an unintentional effect of the aspirational culture of some schools that makes eating disorders more likely, it might be that eating disorders are contagious and can spread within a school. On the other hand, it could be that some schools are better than others at identifying eating disorders in their students and ensuring they get diagnosed and treated.”

Sweden does not have any gender-specific schools, due to its strict laws on gender equality. It is hard to deduce these findings to the different educational system in the United Kingdom, where there are selective all-girls schools that might have a higher proportion of highly educated parents. However, given the results in Sweden, it’s possible that these types of schools would have higher rates of eating disorders.