By: P. Scott Richards, PhD.

During October, 1999, 423 students at Cimmaron High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, completed the Eating Survey (Hardman & Richards, 1999). The Eating Survey is a 20-item measure that asks students to report how frequently (often, sometimes, rarely, or never) they experience dysfunctional eating and weight-related attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. A principal components factor analysis (with Promax rotation) revealed that the Eating Survey is composed of two factors that we have tentatively labeled: (1) Dysfunctional Beliefs and Attitudes about Food and Weight, and (2) Dysfunctional Eating Behaviors. Preliminary research we have conducted has provided evidence that young women who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa) score significantly higher on the Eating Survey than do young women and young men who do not have an eating disorder. Although further research is needed to prove it conclusively, based on our research to date, it appears that high school students who score above the 80th percentile on the Eating Survey either have an eating disorder or are at a high risk for developing one.

Selected Findings from 1999 Cimmaron High School Survey

The average age of the survey respondents was 15.3. One of the respondents was 19 years of age, 29 respondents were 18 years of age, 71 were 17 years, 60 were 16 years, 79 were 15 years, 177 were 14 years, and 6 were 13 years old.

Two hundred and forty-eight of the respondents were female; 175 were male.

Two hundred and thirty-three (55.1%) of the respondents were Caucasion; 60 (14.2%) were Latina/Latino; 59 (13.9%) were African-American; 18.8% belonged to some other ethnic minority group; and the ethnic background of 8% was unknown.

Forty-five (10.6%) of the respondents said they “often diet to lose weight,” and 72 (17.0%) said they “sometimes diet to lose weight.” Females were much more likely to diet to lose weight than were males.

Seventy-two (17.0%) of the respondents said they “often feel fat” and 90 (21.3%) said they “sometimes feel fat.” Females were much more likely to say they feel fat than were males.

Six (1.4%) of the respondents said they “often eat large amounts of food and make myself vomit,” 6 (1.4%) said they “sometimes” do this, and 16 (3.8%) said they “rarely” do this. Thus, a total of 7.2% of the respondents admitted that they have on occasion binged and vomited. There were no significant gender differences in frequency of bingeing and purging.

Four (0.9%) of the respondents said they “often use laxatives to control my weight,” 10 (2.4%) said they “sometimes” do this, and 9 (2.1%) said they “rarely” do this. Thus, a total of 6.4% of the respondents admitted that they have on occasion used laxatives to control their weight. There were no significant gender differences in frequency of laxative abuse.

Thirty-two (7.6%) of the respondents said that they “often believe that there is something wrong with how I look,” 76 (18.0%) said they “sometimes” feel this way, and 113 (26.7%) said they “rarely” feel this way. Females were much more likely to believe that there is something wrong with the way they look than were males.

Nine (2.1%) of the respondents said that they “often play games with food (e.g., lie about what I eat, hide food, cut food in small pieces),” 28 (6.6%) said they “sometimes” do this, and 63 (14.9%) said they “rarely” do this. There were no significant gender differences in regards to the frequency with which the respondents “play games with their food.”

Twenty-eight (6.6%) of the respondents said that they “often miss meals to control my weight,” 62 (14.7%) said they “sometimes” do this, and 61 (14.4%) said they “rarely” do this. Females were somewhat more likely to miss meals to control their weight than were males.

Seventy-three (17.3%) of the respondents said that they “often feel that their greatest fear is of becoming fat,” 73 (17.3%) said they “sometimes” feel this way, and 102 (24.1%) said they “rarely” feel this way. Females were much more likely than males to say that their greatest fear is of becoming fat.

Seventy-one (17.0%) of the respondents had a body mass index (BMI) of 18 or below, suggesting that they were significantly underweight given their height. Females were significantly more likely to underweight than were males.

Forty-two (9.9%) of the respondents scored within the abnormal range (within the distribution of scores obtained by women who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder and who are receiving inpatient treatment for it) on the Eating Survey total score. Females were much more likely to score within the abnormal range on the Eating Survey than were males.

Seventy-three (17.3%) of the respondents scored within the abnormal range (within the distribution of scores obtained by women who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder and who are receiving inpatient treatment for it) on the Eating Survey’s “Dysfunctional Beliefs and Attitudes about Food and Weight” score. Females were somewhat more likely to score within the abnormal range on this scale than were males.

Forty-five (10.6%) of the respondents scored within the abnormal range (within the distribution of scores obtained by women who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder and who are receiving inpatient treatment for it) on the Eating Survey’s “Dysfunctional Eating Behaviors” score. Females were significantly more likely to score within the abnormal range on this scale than were males.

In summary, the results of our survey suggest that approximately 17% to 18% of the high school students we surveyed at Cimmaron High School in Las Vegas have attitudes and beliefs about food and weight that fall into the abnormal ranges and that put them at risk for eventually developing an eating disorder, about 10% of these students actually engage in dysfunctional eating behaviors that fall into the abnormal ranges, and 7% to 8% of them have already developed a diagnosable eating disorder.

Reference

Hardman, R. K., & Richards, P. S. (1999). Development of the Eating Attitudes and Behaviors Survey for Junior and Senior High School Students. Foundation for Change, Orem, Utah.
Center for Change is accredited by The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).