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Eating Disorders: Cultural Factors

Cultural values contribute to the development of eating disorders. This is evident in how eating disorders have changed over time and differ between genders, by age-group, and across cultures. This entry reviews eating disorders in a historical context, epidemiological data, and evidence of eating disorders in different cultural contexts, with a focus on how cultural ideals can explain the observed patterns.

Historical Accounts

Accounts of a self-starvation syndrome that predominantly affected late-adolescent and young-adult women date back centuries. Perhaps the most well-documented cases involved young women who refused to eat out of a belief that denial of their bodily needs heightened their spiritual purity, termed holy anorexia. These cases closely resemble modern-day anorexia nervosa (AN), with the exception that a desire for thinness was absent. These women ...

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