Not just the rich. Body dysmorphia, eating disorders affect in greater ways those in lower socioeconomic levels.

By Erin Blakemore,

Body dysmorphia, diet pills and eating disorders are often stereotyped as a plague of the rich.

But people of lower socioeconomic means are even more likely to dislike their bodies — and engage in disordered eating — than their wealthier counterparts, a study shows.

Researchers used data from a survey that asked 1,531 adolescents in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area about their eating and body satisfaction in 2009 and 2010, then followed up with them in 2018.

As adolescents, 16.5 percent of females with low socioeconomic status reported disliking their bodies compared to 12.2 percent of their high socioeconomic status counterparts. As young adults, that gap was even starker, with 22.7 percent of those with lower incomes saying they were dissatisfied with their bodies compared to 8.1 percent of those with high incomes.

When it came to weight control behaviors, 53.5 percent of the poorer adolescent girls reported unhealthy behaviors such as skipping meals, purging or taking laxatives compared to 37.2 percent of girls in the highest income bracket. The girls with high status were more likely to engage in extreme behaviors, but by young adulthood the poorest had overtaken them by over seven percentage points.

Overall, young women in the low-income group were less likely to use lifestyle strategies such as getting more exercise to lose weight than their richer counterparts. A similar effect was noted in males in the lower income category.

When researchers adjusted the data for racial and ethnic identity and body mass index, the differences disappeared, underscoring the role both BMI and race play in body satisfaction and overall health.

Although people in the lower socioeconomic strata are less likely to like their bodies and more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors around eating, the researchers write, the majority of research on eating disorders focuses on wealthier subjects.

“There is further a need for ongoing attention to the reach and relevance of efforts to prevent body dissatisfaction and disordered eating to ensure efforts benefit young people across [socioeconomic] groups,” the researchers write.

The study appeared in the journal Eating Behaviors.

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