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Body image problems on the rise at the University

By Stephanie Shenouda, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 13, 2013

Responses of 3,088 graduate and undergraduate students have confirmed the suspicions of University health officials: about 60 percent of the surveyed students have issues with their body image, and at least 10 percent admit to taking drastic measures to achieve their weight-loss goals.

The survey, which asked a series of questions about daily routines and eating habits, is a joint project between the Ann Arbor Center for Eating Disorders and researchers at the University.

According to the results of the survey, 27 percent of undergraduate females and 11.8 percent of undergraduate males in the study tested positive for an eating disorder, while 21.5 percent of graduate females and 10.3 percent of graduate males fit the profile.

Researchers aimed to shed light on the eating habits and attitudes of University students.

“First and foremost, we wanted to hear from students about what they are thinking and experiencing on campus in regards to eating and body image issues,” said Kelly Carbone, who works on body image and eating disorder issues at University Health Services. "Of course, we wanted to collect data about how many students on campus are dealing with an eating disorder and take a look at their help-seeking behaviors, but we also wanted to take a deeper look at the campus atmosphere and the messages and the norms that exist around these behaviors.”

Now that the survey is completed, the group’s focus will shift toward educating students and implementing policies to help control the trend.

“The study also revealed that there was a tendency for these students to not seek treatment, and that there was both real and perceived stigma, which I am sure adds to the many barriers that students feel when they are contemplating whether they should get help,” she said.

The numbers had increased across the board since a poll conducted in 2008, which surprised Carbone.

Judith Banker, founder of the Center for Eating Disorders, also collaborated on the construction of the survey and said the results were relatively consistent with her expectations.

“To some extent, we weren’t surprised because eating disorders are a common problem among young adults,” Banker said. “However, the largest growing demographic struggling with eating disorders is men in the Business school, which is relatively unexpected.”

A current hypothesis involves a correlation between the competitive nature of students at the University, which can predispose a person to have tendencies consistent with an eating disorder.

Banker said they plan to survey students at Michigan State University sometime this year and then compile the findings into presentations intended for campuses and clinics across the country.

“These are only preliminary findings right now, so we have to conduct the survey several more times before we can say anything for sure," she said.

Though the survey revealed that students are often reluctant to seek help or discuss their battles with body image with others, there was no shortage of awareness among students about their prevalence.

LSA freshman Molly Potel immediately said the numbers didn’t surprise her, because eating disorders “are a college thing.”

“I feel like in college, everyone’s meeting new people — especially living in the dorms — and I feel like people think they need to look their best and are willing to do anything to do that,” Potel said.

Another main facet of the survey was the perceived availability of healthy food on campus, which Potel feels is largely an issue for students working late at night.

“During the day, there’s healthy food in the dining halls and places like that,” Potel said. “But when it gets really late at night, you’re looking for places open late and ones that deliver, and those tend not to be the healthiest.”