College-age women with financial stress are more likely to develop an eating disorder, but the same trend doesn’t hold true for men with money problems, suggests a study published Monday in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
Researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom surveyed over 400 undergraduate students about their finances, as well as their feelings toward food and eating. To assess finances, study authors asked participants about their families’ affluence and their personal financial difficulties. They assessed participants’ attitudes about diet by using the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT), a standardized test used to spot eating disorder symptoms. The test includes questions such as “I am preoccupied with a desire to be thinner” and “I have the impulse to vomit after meals.”
According to a news release, students completed the surveys four times at intervals of three to four months apart. Results suggested that financial difficulty in the initial surveys correlated with a greater chance of developing an eating disorder in the third and fourth surveys. Lower family affluence also was associated with higher EAT scores, indicating a greater chance of developing an eating disorder. Higher initial EAT scores also predicted more financial difficulty in the second round of surveys, which suggested a two-way link between higher financial stress and severe attitudes about food. The association held true only for college-age women, not men, researchers noted.
"It may be that those at higher risk of having an eating disorder feel like they have no control over events in their life, such as their financial situation, and they may then restrict their eating as a way of exercising control in other areas of their life,” lead author Thomas Richardson, clinical psychologist at Southampton University, said in the news release. "These links need to be further explored to determine causal mechanisms for the relationship between financial difficulties and eating attitudes."