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Eating Disorders and Learning Disabilities in Females

By Huw Williams (Huwmanbeing) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to a new research study from the University of South Hampton and the Solent NHS Trust, women who experience financial hardship during college may be at an increased risk of developing an eating disorder. The study also found having unhealthy attitudes towards food and eating was a predictor for short-term financial difficulties for female students, suggesting the probability of a vicious cycle.

Study Results

Lead author of the study and clinical psychologist, Dr. Thomas Richardson, stated “There may be a ‘vicious cycle’ for these students, where negative attitudes towards eating increase the risk of financial difficulties in the short term, and those difficulties further exacerbate negative eating attitudes in the longer term.”

The results of the study were published online in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the researchers also studied the relationship between socioeconomic status and eating approaches. They found a greater association of possibly problematic eating approaches in women from less wealthy families.

What is an Eating Disorder?

The World Health Organization has defined a learning disability as a stated of ceased or incomplete mental development. Someone with a learning disability is believed to have a significant intellectual impairment, adaptive and social functioning issues. A learning disability is evidenced from childhood and is not something a person will develop in adulthood.
More than 400 undergraduate students from universities all across the United Kingdom took part in the study. The participants completed surveys assessing family wealth, recent financial hardships and attitudes towards food and eating. The results were then assessed using the Eating Attitudes Test.

The Eating Attitudes Tests requires responses to questions such as “I feel extremely guilty after eating,” “I am preoccupied with a desire to be thinner,” and “I have the impulse to vomit after meals.” When an individual has higher scores in the test, it represents extreme attitudes and a high potential for the presence of an eating disorder.

Students in the study completed the survey up to four times and at around
three or four months in between each session. The key findings were as follows:
• Higher baseline Eating Attitudes Test results predicted increased incidents of financial difficulties in the second round of surveys, after taking into account preliminary economic problems.
• A higher level of financial difficulties in the initial surveys was directly related to someone have more severe attitudes about food and eating particularly in the third and fourth surveys.
• Lower family income meant an association with higher scores in the Eating Attitudes Test, when participants completed the last survey.

Results of Survey

The results of the study indicated a strong link between financial status and eating disorders in females, but not males.
Dr. Richardson further states,” It may be that those at higher risk of having an eating disorder feel like they have no control over events in their life, such as their financial situation, and they may then restrict their eating as a way of exercising control in other areas of their life.”
“These links need to be further explored to determine casual mechanisms for the relationship between financial difficulties and eating attitudes.”