Study finds disordered eating prevalent at Miami
Published: Friday, April 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 23:04
Dining hall chatter about that piece of cake, “you just should not have eaten” can actually be a sign of a new ideology about food that might encourage disordered eating among college students, according to Cameron Hay-Rollins, Miami University associate professor of anthropology.
Hay-Rollins, Rose Marie Ward, associate professor of Kinesiology and Health and three former students, Sarah McKasson, Michelle Fakler and Francesca Cheli, have been working on a study about how female college students approach eating and whether social comments on their eating habits lead to disordered eating or eating disorders. The authors will likely publish the study within the next year.
An eating disorder is a diagnosable syndrome, according to Hay-Rollins, whereas disordered eating is eating curtailed for social, physical or cultural ends, and can fall anywhere between dieting too much and stress eating.
Junior Caitlin McGillicuddy said disordered eating is not publicized enough. “I think [disordered eating] is really underpublicized,” McGillicuddy said. “It should be addressed because I’m sure that everyone I know has gone through a point where they don’t eat enough calories throughout their day.”
According to Tammy Gustin, nurse practitioner at Student Health Services, Miami students have a higher risk factor for eating disorders because students are between the ages of 18-23 years old, the campus is 55 percent female and because many Miami students have high socioeconomic status.
“Statistically if you look at the socioeconomic background of our student body, these are all generalities because it could happen to anyone, but there is statistically a high[er] risk factor in some socioeconomic high income families,” Gustin said.
The study began with a semester-long observation of student behavior in dining halls. Hay-Rollins said the authors looked at what students were eating, how much they were putting on their plates and even if they were, “getting pieces of cake and hiding it under bread so that people won’t make comments.”
Hay-Rollins said these observations helped the authors develop a survey, which they distributed to first-year females. This allowed the authors of the study to gather quantitative data, which was then analyzed by Ward.
After this data was gathered the authors of the study, especially McKasson and Fakler, observed how students talk about eating, according to Hay-Rollins.
“We were looking at how people talk about those things and on this campus, at least from our findings, people are talking about these kinds of issues a lot,” Hay-Rollins said.
Hay-Rollins said having both statistical data and qualitative data allowed the authors to gather more conclusive results.
According to Hay-Rollins, student talk about eating is pervasive but not necessarily a preoccupation. The results of the study show disordered eating is neither specific to particular groups of people nor an “epidemic” on campus.
“It seems to be pervasive in the sense that you would bump into to conversations where people are talking about eating or dieting or stress eating,” Hay-Rollins said. “I’m not sure I’d call it a preoccupation.”
According to Rollins this “everyday,” “casual” talk is evident of a moral ideology among college-age women that people should eat a particular way.
Female Miami first-years are concerned with issues such as body image, McGillicuddy said.
“I feel like freshmen probably deal with it a lot because they come to Miami with all of these girls here and it’s all of a sudden like a huge deal,” McGillicuddy said.
In addition, Rollins said this ideology does not originate in the college environment.
“[Female first-years] were already showing tendencies toward disordered eating, some of them, and I don’t know where that came from before,” Hay-Rollins said. “Once they’re [at college] in our qualitative data it’s pretty apparent that there is a very strong moral ‘should’ about what people should have on their plates, how much they should be eating, how much they should be exercising.”
While Hay-Rollins’ study only looked at female first-years, she said disordered eating among men on campus should also be looked at.
According Gustin, if a student is concerned they are suffering from an eating disorder he or she can request an eating disorder medical evaluation at Student Health Services, make an appointment with Student Counseling Services, approach one of the dieticians at McCullough Hyde Memorial Hospital or make an appointment with a private psychologist in the Oxford area.
However, if a student seeks help from Health Services for a potential eating disorder they will also refer that person to Student Counseling Services and a dietician.
“It’s usually at least those three disciplines that can really help the student be successful in overcoming some of their difficulties,” Gustin said.