Acculturation and Eating Disorders: Literature Review


This paper explores studies that have been conducted to investigate the correlation between acculturation and eating disorders. Acculturation refers to the practice whereby a minority group adopts the cultural practices of another group (Butte, Cai and Cole12). This literature review focuses on acculturation and eating disorders in people who have immigrated to Western countries.

For use in this study, eating disorders are described as a group of “conditions that are characterized by disordered eating habits” (Cachelin, Striegel-Moore and Regan 7). The disordered eating habits may be in the form of excessive or insufficient food intake (Hammar and Hakala 6). The most common eating disorders that are seen in Western Countries include Bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder (Hammer and Hakala 4).

“Binge eating disorder can be described as a condition in which an individual feeds excessively” in an uncontrollable manner and later feels ashamed (Haudek, Rorty and Henker 7). It is the most common eating disorder in the United States “and affects close to 3.5% females and 2% males” (Tamara and Ricciardelli 4). More than 30% of all people looking for treatment due to eating disorders are affected by the condition.

Bulimia nervosa is defined as “eating an excessive amount of food in a short duration followed by an attempt to remove the excess food by spewing, taking laxatives/diuretics and or by exercising” (Warren and Gastillo 6). These actions might be complemented by fasting for a longer than normal period. According to previous research findings, the occurrence of bulimia nervosa in women is close to ten times more compared to men (Tamara and Ricciardelli 1). Individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa always indicate other conditions such as sexual behaviors, alcohol and substance abuse, and mood disorders.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is “characterized by extreme food restriction and unreasonable fear for gaining weight, in addition to a distorted perception, of one’s body” (Butte 5). The condition mostly develops during the adolescent stage or early adulthood. Anorexia nervosa is the worst of all eating disorders and often results in complications that last for a lifetime (Cachelin, Striegel-Moore and Regan 2).

Review of studies

Several studies have been carried out to identify the relationship between eating disorders and acculturation. Most of the studies explored in this review were conducted in the United States. Other studies report on investigations conducted either in Europe or Australia. These studies mainly investigated the implications of culture change on the eating habits of immigrant populations and the various effects. The studies conducted in the United States concentrated on populations that were categorized as Mexican Americans, Latinos, Hispanics, Chinese Americans, and European Americans. Most of the findings indicate that risks for eating disorders were directly linked to the adoption of western values (Abdollahi and Traci 3).

Several studies have been carried out to determine how acculturation impacts the diet of immigrant populations. For instance, a longitudinal study was carried out between 1988 and 1999 to investigate the socioeconomic and acculturation impacts on food and diet insufficiency among Hispanic youths living in the United States of America. The study investigated Hispanic groups from Mexico and Hispanic countries. The findings showed that, in addition to economic factors, acculturation played a significant role in determining diets adopted by different Hispanic groups.

A cross-sectional study was conducted by Cachelin et al. to investigate the factors that were associated with people who were seeking treatment for weight-related disorders (5). The study used a sample of 190 individuals in which compared the findings from European Americans and Mexican Americans. The results of this study showed that the need for treatment was directly related to ethnicity, citing the influence of acculturation (Cachelin, Striegel-Moore and Regan22).

Another cross-sectional study was carried out by Warren to identify the sociological model of eating disorders in Mexican American women (11). The study had a sample of 94 individuals and came up with the conclusion that the body size of Mexican Americans was positively correlated with behavioral acculturation (Warren and Gastillo 7).

According to Tamara et al, the increase in eating pathology in Asian women who have settled in western countries is a direct result of acculturation (3). These findings were made following a study carried out to investigate the development of eating pathology in Chinese-Australian women (Tamara and Ricciardelli 12).

A study carried out to establish acculturation, body image and eating behaviors in Australian Muslim women showed that increased risks were associated with people who adopted Western values (Mazur, Marquis and Jensen 3).


Most of the studies reviewed reported that acculturation had a strong influence on eating disorders. However, there is one study that seemed to contradict these findings. A study carried out by Abdollahi to compare symptoms of eating disorders and body image disturbances of Iranian emigrants in the US, and with the local population, did not find any significant differences between the two populations (12).

Very few studies related acculturation with a particular type of eating disorder. However, most of them reported on the risk factors that are commonly linked to the development of eating disorders.

Works Cited

Abdollahi, Panteha and Traci Mann. “Eating Disorder Symptoms and Body Image concerns in Iran: Comparisons between Iranian Women in Iran and in America.” J Eat Disord 30(2001):259-268. Print.

Butte, Nancy. “Metabolic and Behavioral predictors of weight gain in Hispanic children: the Viva Familia Study.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 85 (2007): 1478-85. Print.

Cachelin, Fary, Ruth Striegel-Moore and Pamela C Regan. “Factors Associated with Treatment Seeking in a Community Sample of European American and Mexican American Women with Eating Disorders.” European Eating Disorders Review 14(2006):422-429. Print.

Hammar, Nathan and Peter Hakala. “Migration and differences in dietary habits- a cross sectional study of Finnish twins in Sweden.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 63 (2009): 312-322. Print.

Haudek, Catherine, Marcia Rorty and Barbara Henker. “The role of Ethnicity and Parental Bonding in the Eating and Weight Concerns of Asian-American and

Caucasian College Women.” Ethnicity and Parental Bonding 25(1999): 425-433. Print.

Mazur, Robert, Grace Marquis and Helen Jensen. “Deit and food insufficiency among Hispanic youths: Acculturation and socioeconomic factors in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78 (2003): 1120- 7. Print.

Tamara, Humphry and lina A Ricciardelli. “The Development of Eating pathology in Chinese-Australian Women: Acculturation Versus Culture Clash.” Eating pathology in Chinese-Australian Women 35(2012): 579-588. Print.

Warren, Cortneys and Gastillo Linda. “The sociological model of eating disorders in Mexican American Womn: Behavioral Acculturation and Cognitive Marginalization as Moderators.” Eating disorders 18(2010): 43-57. Print.

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