Study links low-income with greater odds of eating disorders, body dissatisfaction in youth

Eating disorders and unhappiness with one’s body are prevalent among young Americans from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but the odds are higher for those of lower income. However, there were no significant differences when researchers considered ethnic and racial identities or body mass index (BMI).

These are the key findings of an NHLBI-funded study published in the journal Eating Behaviors, and based on data from a long-running study, known as Project EAT, which tracks the health of teens as they transition into adulthood.

Contrary to popular stereotypes that eating disorders, use of diet pills, and body dissatisfaction issues are plagues of the rich, researchers found they are even more prevalent among young people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds. And the problem compounds as teenagers grow into young adults.

In general, unhealthy weight control measures and behaviors – skipping meals, taking diet pills – were all more common among youngsters from lower income families. On the other hand, regular use of lifestyle weight management behaviors, such as exercise, was less prevalent among this group, compared to their middle- and upper-income counterparts.

According to the researchers, there is a need for greater attention to the reach and relevance of efforts to prevent disordered eating and improve body satisfaction to ensure efforts benefit young people across socioeconomic groups.