A cross-cultural comparison of health, eating behaviour and body image among black South African and White British university students
Objectives: Recent research has shown an increase in the prevalence of eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa among black female students living in urban areas of South Africa. The aim of the present study was to provide a profile of mental and physical health, eating behaviour and body image among black female students living in a highly rural province of the country. Design & Methods: 40 black female students from the University of Zululand, South Africa and, for purposes of comparison, 40 white female students from the University of Northumbria, UK, participated in the study. Testing and assessments were carried out locally and with the aid of a Zulu interpreter where appropriate. Dependent measures fell into three categories: morphological (body mass index, waist-hip ratio, percentage body fat), physiological (resting heart rate, blood pressure, haemoglobin, glucose, cholesterol) and psychological (anxiety, depression, attitudes and behaviours indicative of eating disorder). A body image assessment was also carried out. Results: No between group differences were identified in terms of physical health, although the African participants were significantly larger, with 42.5 per cent of the sample being overweight or obese. However, African participants were significantly more depressed and symptomatic on the eating disorder measures. Both groups showed high levels of body dissatisfaction. Conclusions: Overall, results suggest that black female students living in rural areas of South Africa may presently constitute a high-risk group for eating disorders. As such, it is proposed that these findings be taken as a prima facie case for psychoeducational intervention in such areas.