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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 14:34 GMT
Eating disorders rise in Zulu women
South African girls
Girls want to look thinner and more fashionable
The eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia are often considered white, western illnesses.

But concerns are mounting in South Africa as the number of eating disorder cases reported amongst black women is on the rise.

A study conducted by the University of Zululand in South Africa and the Northumbria University in England, found that many young Zulu women appeared to be depressed about their weight.

"In a comparison of Zulu and British girls we found a lot more eating problems and body dissatisfaction among the Zulu girls than we did among the British," psychologist, Julie Seed explained to the BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

Control

The study compared the mental and physical attitudes to food and body image of 40 young, black Zulu girls with 40 white, British females.

After questioning the University students, the researchers found that many of the girls admitted to periods of either not eating or vomiting after food.

Models
Girls claimed to want to look less "like their mums and more like western girls."
"About 40% of the Zulu girls were overweight or obese, but more than half of them actually had quite disordered eating attitudes and behaviours," revealed Seed.

Many of the girls admitted to using laxatives and diet pills to control their weight, citing a desire to be "thinner" and wanting to look less "like their mums anymore and more like western girls."

Society

Although the sample group is small, the study follows claims that anorexia nervosa only occurs in the developed world and is a result of media images of thin women.

Speaking to the Outlook programme, the principal psychologist at the eating disorders clinic at the Tara Hospital, Johannesburg, talked of other issues that could be affecting women's eating patterns.

"I don't think that it is just media images," explained Professor Christopher Szabo.

"I think that there have been significant societal changes in South Africa such as urbanisation and there has been significant change with the emancipation of black females and increasing role choice."

Awareness

When questioned about an increase in eating disorders amongst black females, Professor Szabo conceded that the numbers may be small, but they could be indicative of a wider social problem.

"We haven't seen a flood of cases, but most eating disorder sufferers are not hospitalised," he explained.

"We can anticipate that if we have admitted 12 or so in the last couple of years there are probably greater numbers existing in the community."

As friends or relatives admit the majority of hospitalised cases, Professor Szabo cited a lack of awareness within families and communities.

To prevent a further escalation he called for older generations to be made more aware of the symptoms of food related illnesses.

A suggestion reinforced by a young, black bulimic being treated at the Tara clinic.

"It is like HIV/Aids," she explained. "People just don't talk about it as they think that people are going to think them immoral within the society, but it would help if we spoke more about it."

See also:

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