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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 01:12 GMT
Wealthy women have worse body image
Woman eating
Poor body image is linked to eating disorders
Women who live in wealthy neighbourhoods are more likely to be unhappy with their bodies, according to research.

The more affluent an area is, the more likely a woman is to be dissatisfied with her body weight, regardless of her own income, it is suggested.

Psychiatrists have found a correlation between poor body image and eating disorders, particularly the condition known as bulimia, which is characterised by self-induced vomiting after consuming food.


The social climate where thin equals beautiful is strongest in richest areas

Lindsay McLaren, research co-ordinator
The study found women of average weight, who lived in areas of above average affluence, were more than 70% likely to be dissatisfied with their body image.

However, they were only 58% as likely to feel this way if they lived in an area of average affluence, according to a report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

An overweight woman was 89% as likely to be dissatisfied with her weight if she lived in an area of above average affluence, while only 71% as likely to feel this way if she lived in an area of below average affluence.

The report suggests wealthier neighbourhoods magnify the values of the broader culture.

The research looked at a random sample of 895 women in Canada, aged between 25 and 56.

Cultural images

However, the authors say the findings could be applied to Britain, where the class system is more pronounced than Canada.

Psychiatrist Professor Janet Treasure said body dissatisfaction is one of two key factors found to trigger bulimia, the other being emotional distress.

She said: "It has always been said that eating disorders have been more prevalent among the upper classes.

"There are a lot of factors, culturally, which encourage people to idealise the thinner image.

"Body dissatisfaction is important, especially for bulimia."

Thin reminders

Professor Treasure, who practices at Guys, Kings and St Thomas's hospitals in London, said she is currently analysing the data from an international study of medical students' dissatisfaction with their bodies.

Early indications show that European students have higher levels of dissatisfaction compared to those in less developed countries.

The Canadian report author, Lindsay McLaren of the University of Montreal, said: "The social climate where thin equals beautiful is strongest in richest areas.

"This could be because women have greater access to reminders of the need to be thin, such as glossy magazines, weight loss centres and fitness studios, as well as clothes shops catering to a young and slim body shape."

They suggest the findings are not conclusive, but provide the foundations for further investigation.

See also:

02 Jun 00 | Health
Eating disorders 'hit men harder'
13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Eating disorders
14 Apr 00 | Health
Gene theory on eating disorders
02 Sep 01 | Showbiz
Posh admits eating disorder
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