Eating disorders threaten an individual’s physical and mental health. Physically, the excessive weight loss and irregular eating habits associated with EDs can result in serious deficiencies in the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems; Mentally, those that suffer from eating disorders are increasingly likely to additionally struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and substance abuse incorrect apa citation. Behaviors indicative of eating disorders typically begin to develop in early adolescence. Although many efforts have been made in attempt to better answer the question of why/how eating disorders originate—proposed theories ranging from biology to trauma—one key aspect to their development that is sometimes overlooked is timing.
The time at which most eating disorders develop and persist is from ages 12 to 25.
During this time, individuals are undergoing major life changes and are subject to copious stress-inducing situations that could likely contribute to the development of an eating disorder, one of which being academics. The extreme academic pressure most high school and college aged Americans are subject to is often linked with stress and anxiety, but could it also be a potential factor in the development and persistence of eating disorders? In this study, we examine how heightened academic pressure can play a role in fostering disordered eating behaviors.
As millions of Americans suffer from this mental illness, a better understanding of potential causes proves critical in developing more effective treatment approaches and cultivating lasting recover. A better understanding of how the academic environment can be toxic to teens can facilitate healthy change and prevent the development of eating disorders in general.
Through the collection of correlational data, this study seeks to examine how academic pressure is related to eating disorder tendencies in high school girls. The participants of this study will be female, high school juniors. A characteristically, academically stressful time for American high schoolers, the junior year is likely to have on average higher levels of stress and therefore potentially higher levels of disordered eating. In an attempt to maintain greater consistency among the participants and limit the possibility of a third variable skewing results, the participants will all be from the same high school and from similar socio-economic backgrounds. Ensuring greater similarity between all participant’s environments and access allows stronger and more clear correlations to be made. The participants will be randomly selected in attempt to avoid the problem present with self-selection and to better represent the population of the high school as a whole.
Their participation in the study will be completely anonymous. The participants will be asked to complete a survey designed to measure the individual’s academic pressure (pressure to get perfect grades, to go to the best college, to be better than their peers, etc.) and their tendency towards disordered eating behavior (binging, purging, skipping meals, body dysmorphia, dissatisfaction/lack of confidence in physical appearance, etc.). The survey, however, will also include a sufficient amount of unrelated questions in an attempt to make the purpose of the study intentionally unclear, avoiding demand characteristics and therefore providing more accurate measurements. The questionnaire will ask the participants to rate how much they agree or disagree with provided statements—their options being “Strongly Disagree”, “Disagree”, “Neutral”, “Agree” and “Strongly Agree”.
The statements provided will be indicative of academic pressure and eating disorder tendencies (Ex. “I am not satisfied with my physical appearance” and “I feel that I must get straight As”). There will be both very direct statements (clearly indicative of academic pressure/eating disorder tendencies), and somewhat vague statements (less obviously indicative of academic pressure/eating disorder tendencies) primarily because eating disorders and disordered eating behavior is often viewed as shameful and many participants might tend to be less likely to admit to and recognize such behavior. Providing less suggestive questions and making the intent of the study less clear will limit the effect of this issue. I predict that students who experience greater academic pressure will be more likely to also exhibit behavior and attitudes characteristic of eating disorders.
To test this hypothesis I will compare the average self-reported agreement or disagreement with statements trending towards academic pressure to those trending towards eating disorder behavior. This study aims to isolate academic pressure specifically as a factor in developing eating disorders. By using a range of questions (some of which somewhat explicitly indicate increased academic pressure or eating disorder tendencies and others of which are far more subtle) there is a greater chance that participants indicate such tendencies even if they are unaware of their tendencies or in a state of denial or shame—therefore providing greater accuracy and validity to the study. A great limitation of this study is that it is only representative of a small population.
Because the participants will all be from one high school, variability of environment is more controlled, however, this means that the findings cannot be concluded as representative or applicable to the majority of the population of high school aged girls. Further, as the nature of a correlational study only works to identify the relationship between two variables, this study cannot sustain causation theories that the development of an eating disorder can be the direct consequence of and coping mechanism for academic pressure: findings simply suggest a correlation between the two variables. These findings, however, will be incredibly helpful in addressing the issue of eating disorders in adolescent teenage girls as it seeks to investigate a potentially vital factor in creating the foundation for the development of an eating disorder.
If the hypothesis is confirmed, better environments can be created in attempt to limit academic stress and thus limit eating disorder development, as well as allowing a better understanding of how these illness can be treated. The key to treating and preventing eating disorders truly lies in better understanding and greater conversation, and thus this study will provide just that. Future research can further explore this idea by testing what ways best help limit academic pressure, helping facilitate real world applications of our findings to help those who suffer or have the potential to suffer from eating disorders.