Family comments and life changes aiding rise in UAE eating disorders
University of Sharjah study finds that the influence of family members can have a major bearing on a young person’s body perception and negative remarks could lead to an eating disorder
Family influence and the transient nature of life in the UAE both play a part in triggering eating disorders and affecting young people’s body image perceptions.
A study of hundreds of mainly Arab students aged between 18 and 25 from three UAE universities found that even though 60 per cent of them were of a normal weight, 45 per cent had body shape concerns and 33 per cent were at risk of developing an eating disorder.
About one third (32.5 per cent) of the 662 students surveyed in the University of Sharjah study cited family as being an influence on their body image perception, the highest-ranking influence, ahead of media, criticism and social media, while experts said that the upheaval of moving to a new country, new home and new school has a major bearing on young people’s chances of developing an eating disorder.
Ayla Coussa, a clinical dietitian at Fakih IVF in Dubai, believes that change can be a big factor in eating disorders in young people.
“As there are expats coming and leaving, it’s a huge change for families and kids to go to a new school and culture. Many teenagers want to be in control and change is something that can be a trigger for eating disorders,” she said.
“Moving to a new country is all about changing environment, changing schools, getting accustomed to new culture and making new friends. The only way teenagers sometimes try to be in control is through their food and their new lifestyle. If it’s not anorexia, it can be binge eating.”
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Eating disorders appear to be on the rise in the UAE as the 33 per cent at risk in this study is an increase on a 2006 report that found that one in four young women were at risk.
“This is a high score for eating disorders among university students and we need to start investigating. These students are a high-risk group and are likely to develop eating disorders. We see more and more eating disorders among teens and families,” said Dr Hadia Radwan, the lead researcher and an assistant professor at the department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sharjah.
“Comments from family members affect the eating behaviour of children. We found that the comments they receive from parents, especially in the mother and daughter relationship, has an impact on future health and body satisfaction.”
The study of 407 women and 255 men, which Dr Hayder Hasan at the university also worked on, found that media, family, criticism, social media are all factors triggering eating disorders.