Body dissatisfaction and its interrelations with other risk factors for bulimia nervosa in 12 countries

Psychother Psychosom. 2002 Jan-Feb;71(1):54-61. doi: 10.1159/000049344.


Background: It is widely accepted that risk factors for bulimia nervosa, mainly body dissatisfaction, are dependent on cultural factors. However, to date few studies have compared data from different cultures with an appropriate methodology. Therefore we aimed to gather reliable information on body dissatisfaction and other risk factors for bulimia from different nations and to reveal their functional interrelations.

Methods: A series of 10 silhouettes, designed to be as far as possible free from cultural and other detailed aspects, was shown to 1,751 medical and nursing students in 12 nations. A functional model was applied to each sample and tested by structural equation methodology.

Results: The most extreme body dissatisfaction was found in northern Mediterranean countries, followed by northern European countries. Countries currently undergoing a process of westernization show an intermediate amount of body dissatisfaction, and non-western countries demonstrate rather low values. Body dissatisfaction is the most important influence on dieting behaviour in most countries.

Conclusions: Despite ongoing adoption of western values worldwide, we observe remarkable differences in body dissatisfaction between different cultures. That body dissatisfaction seems disturbingly partly detached from the actual BMI, i.e. possible overweight, as well as from feelings of low self-esteem in some western countries, raises new questions about the possible origin of the pressure to be thin.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Image*
  • Bulimia / diagnosis
  • Bulimia / epidemiology*
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet, Reducing / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality Inventory
  • Risk Factors
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Students, Nursing / psychology