Body image and eating behaviors in Orthodox and Secular Jewish women

New York Obesity Research Center, Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry, St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital Center, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY 10025, USA.
The journal of gender-specific medicine: JGSM: the official journal of the Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia 01/2002; 5(1):19-24.
Source: PubMed


To explore the impact of religion on the development of disturbances in body image and eating behaviors.
78 Orthodox Jewish women were compared with 48 secular Jewish women.
Participants completed the Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ), the Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire Version (EDE-Q), and the Figure Rating Scale (FRS).
Despite a similar body mass index of 22.2 +/- 2.8 SDs, the secular women scored significantly higher on the BSQ (P = .005) and the EDE-Q (P = .004) than the Orthodox women. The secular women also had greater eating disorder symptomatology: more laxative use (P = .02) and a trend toward more vomiting (P = .06) and diuretic use (P = .06), although not more binge eating. They were twice as likely to have a fear of becoming fat (P = .05) and were four times as likely to be influenced by their shape and weight (P = .001). Also, despite increased media exposure, the secular group chose an ideal body size on the FRS similar to that of the Orthodox group, suggesting that their greater body dissatisfaction on the BSQ was related, instead, to greater cultural pressure for thinness (P = .007) and more shame about appearance (P = .04).
Our findings show that membership in a strict, insulated religious group such as Orthodox Judaism may protect women, to some extent, from developing body dissatisfaction and eating pathology.

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    • "Latzer et al. (2007) found that among modern Orthodox Jewish high school girls in Israel, greater levels of religiosity were associated with lower levels of DEP. Similarly, (Gluck and Geliebter 2002) found that among college students, secular Jewish women had higher rates of DEP than their orthodox Jewish counterparts. A recent study of Jewish high school and college students did not find differences in rates of DEP between Orthodox and non-Orthodox students. "
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    • "In an environment where even cigarette smoking is strictly opposed for young women, EDs may become a way to act out their distress within the culturally sanctioned medium of food (Baruchin, 1998b). By contrast, Gluck and Geliebter (2002), who compared 78 orthodox Jewish-American women with 48 secular Jewish women, found that although both groups had similar mean BMI, secular women scored significantly higher than orthodox women on body shape disturbances and laxative use, showed a trend towards more vomiting and diuretic use, although they had no excessive binge-eating. The secular women were, in addition, twice as likely to have a fear of becoming fat and were four times more likely to associate selfacceptance with shape and weight-related ideals. "
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