By: P. Scott Richards

During February and March, 1999, 859 students at 5 Utah County schools completed the Eating Survey (Hardman, 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 Survey

1. The average age of the survey respondents was 16.2. Seventy-one respondents were 18 years of age, 274 were 17; 246 were 16; 257 were 15; and 7 were younger than 15 years old.

2. Five hundred and ninety-four respondents were female; 262 were male.

3. Sixty-six (7.7%) of the respondents said they “often diet to lose weight,” and 149 (17.3%) said they “sometimes diet to lose weight.” Females were much more likely to diet to lose weight than were males.

4. Two hundred and three (23.6%) of the respondents said they “often feel fat” and 245 (28.5%) said they “sometimes feel fat.” Females were much more likely to say they feel fat than were males.

5. Eight (0.9%) of the respondents said they “often eat large amounts of food and make myself vomit,” 16 (1.9%) said they “sometimes” do this, and 32 (3.7%) said they “rarely” do this. Thus, a total of 6.5% of the respondents admitted that they have on occasion binged and vomited. There were no significant gender differences in frequency of bingeing and purging.

6. Nine (1.0%) of the respondents said they “often use laxatives to control my weight,” 13 (1.5%) said they “sometimes” do this, and 30 (3.5%) said they “rarely” do this. Thus, a total of 6.0% 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.

7. One hundred and thirty-seven (15.9%) of the respondents said that they “often believe that there is something wrong with how I look,” 229 (26.7%) said they “sometimes” feel this way, and 227 (26.4%) 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.

8. Twenty-eight (3.3%) 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),” 66 (7.7%) said they “sometimes” do this, and 128 (14.9%) said they “rarely” do this. Females were significantly more likely to “play games with their food” than were males.

9. Seventy-four (8.6%) of the respondents said that they “often miss meals to control my weight,” 118 (13.7%) said they “sometimes” do this, and 168 (19.6%) said they “rarely” do this. Females were much more likely to miss meals to control their weight than were males.

10. One hundred and seventy-nine (20.8%) of the respondents said that they “often feel that their greatest fear is of becoming fat,” 183 (21.3%) said they “sometimes” feel this way, and 184 (21.4%) said they “rarely” feel this way. Females were much more likely than males to say that their greatest fear is of becoming fat.

11. Two hundred and three (23.6%) of the respondents said that they “often feel fat,” 245 (28.5%) said they “sometimes feel fat,” and 156 (18.2%) said they “rarely” feel this way. Females were much more likely to perceive that they are fat than were males.

12. Ninety-nine (11.4%) 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 be underweight than were males.

13. Two hundred and eighty-six (21.7%) 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.

14. Two hundred and seventy-two (31.8%) 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 much more likely to score within the abnormal range on this scale than were males.

15. One hundred and eleven (13.0%) 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 much more likely to score within the abnormal range on this scale than were males.

In summary, the results of our survey suggest that approximately 6% to 13% of the high school students we surveyed in Utah County have already developed a diagnosable eating disorder; 30% to 35% of the high school students 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. These findings document that there is a great need within Utah County for effective education and prevention programs with junior high and high school students.