Anorexia in the United States

I found an article called Anorexia nervosa as a Culture-Bound Syndrome by Leslie Swartz I chose this culture-bound syndrome because I actually was doing a paper on this topic in another class last week and brought up that I thought anorexia was a cultural disease  So I found it quite interesting how the topic culture-bound syndrome came up again in this class. Anorexia nervosa is presently considered a Western culture-bound syndrome. A cultural focus on dieting and the idea of thinness for women is what is assumed to be implicated in the disorder (Swartz,2002). Based on research and data eating disorders have been on an increase in developed countries.  In this article author Leslie Swartz talks about  and argues that anorexia  disorder can be understood in the context of one definition of culture-bound syndromes(Swartz, 2002). She backed her data up by contrasting two models of the cross-cultural study of psycho-pathology and outlined the models in order to contextualize the argument in a particular paradigm (Swartz, 2002).

The biological dimensions of the illness are all categorized under culture. The cultural dimensions of the illness were that the illness could be the media and society. These two things place major emphasis and form a certain viewpoint or “belief” on how an ideal person suppose to look.  The individual dimensions of the illness could be that those who who have anorexia nervosa disorder seem to focus on dieting and idea of being thin. Studies shows that this individual dimension seemed to be more commonly found in Western women (Swartz, 2002).

Although there is no specific treatment that works better to cure anorexia there is three main areas that doctors like to adress.  The three main areas are: Treat any psychological disorders related to the illness; attempt to restore the person to a healthy weight; and Reduce or eliminate any  behaviors or thoughts that originally led to the disordered eating.


Swartz, Leslie , “Anorexia nervosa as a Culture-Bound Syndrome“, Social Science and Medicine: Volume 20, Issue 7, 1985, Pages 725–730,


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Anya Odabasic says:

    We identified culture in class as being “a learned pattern of thought and behavior shared by a social group”. I think you could expand this definition to include other specific things such as thoughts and influences on health and social norms. I feel as though culture today is more of a forced idea and could be defined as the accepted and expected thoughts on certain behaviors and practices.

    I definitely think anorexia nervosa is a culture bound syndrome. Even though it is human nature to look nice, the United States is obsessed with appearance and oddly enough, health. Society in the U.S has pushed the limits of what one can accomplish to the max. Long workdays, tempting unhealthy food everywhere, and minimal time are all weighing down on our shoulders. Eventually, something will have give!

    Although a horrible thing to go through because it literally covers every aspect of health including psychological and biological health, these kinds of ailments open up opportunities to fix holes in Americas heath and society. I think this illness in particular, and others such as obesity, bulimia, etc really show something about the culture and society.

    I honestly feel like other cultures would treat and think of anorexia the same way. Seeing as there aren’t really any medications to treat anorexia nervosa, other methods are used. In western medicine we may lean towards psychological help to cure it while other cultures such as an Asian country would look to acupuncture or herbal remedies to try and solve the disease. I could also see other cultures that value health differently as seeing it as bigger problem than we do in the U.S. In some African cultures more meat on your bones is a better thing. A very skinny person would be seen as deathly ill.

  2. Connor DeMars says:

    Culture is defined as the way of life in a certain group of people, such as behavior and beliefs passed on from one generation to the next. Therefore, I do believe that anorexia is a culture bound syndrome. In the United States, people are extremely concerned with their self-image and will do anything to fit in. Like you said, the idea of thinness for women and dieting are major factors in this anorexia condition. They will continue to diet until they are thin enough. The advantages to this syndrome would be that more people are thinner, but this could be very dangerous if the person becomes too thin. Some starve themselves in order to reach the desired look, but they don’t stop to consider the negative health factors that come with it. In a different ethnomedical system or culture, it would definitely be looked at differently. In the United States, skinny is considered to be attractive, which is displayed through the media, but in other countries, the more meat you have on you, the healthier you are. Some people in other countries would look at someone from the United States and think that they are extremely ill because of how skinny they are, and we might look at someone from another country who we think is chubby, but to them they are very healthy. The different perceptions each culture has can determine the overall health of an individual.

  3. Alison Johnson says:

    Culture can be defined as a certain set of beliefs, practices, or way of life demonstrated by a group of people. I do believe that anorexia is a culturally bound symptom. In industrialized societies such as the United States, there is an emphasis on being in control of your body, and an importance on looking thin and healthy. Anorexia is characterized by weight loss and an extremely low body weight. In our culture, most women suffering with anorexia are not required to do physical labor, and are able to keep a low weight. In less industrialized cultures, women may be required to do more physical labor, and have to keep their bodies a higher weight with more muscle. In the United States especially, the presence of the media and tools such as Photoshop are increasingly adding to the pressure to stay thin. Anorexia is also a hereditary disorder, and therefore can be somewhat confined to a certain culture. A different culture could explain anorexia as a physical disorder, given the number of physical problems that can arise from not eating. It could also be looked at from a psychological perspective, in that certain people are prone to mental illnesses than others.

  4. sarah rousakis says:

    In lecture this week, we defined the term “culture” as as set of unique behaviors, traditions, customs etc., that are specific for a particular group of people. I would certainly consider anorexia to be a culture-bound syndrome in the United States. With our increasing obsession with achieving the “perfect” look, more Americans (both male and female) are feeling more pressure to do certain things in order to look their best. They see celebrities in magazines and movies and feel pressure to look like them. This can drive people to participate in unhealthy activities such as not eating in order to be thin. This behavior can become out of control very quickly and some people may lose their life trying to attain an unrealistic appearance. An advantage of this particular disease being a culture-bound syndrome is that it is one that many researchers and psychologists are working to better understand and help those who are affected by this disease. Once we are able to understand the psychological implications of the disease, we will be better able to it and further help those affected. In a different culture, anorexia could just be seen in a physical sense and the psychological aspects of the disease could not be taken seriously, and therefore, may not be effectively treated, and those suffering may not feel that doctors are able to empathize and understand what they are going through.

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