11:52pm Thursday 14 November 2019

U-M researchers to study student attitudes on eating and body image

Group of students taking a study break for pizza. (stock image)

Research shows that most college students want to lose weight and engage in perpetual dieting, with nearly two-thirds of female college students having an undiagnosed mild or emerging eating problem.

About 60 percent of college women diet or binge; 69 percent use diet pills, diuretics, fasting or purging to control their weight; and the prevalence of bulimia nervosa among this population is reported to be as high as 19 percent. And women are not alone in experiencing eating disorders. One study found that 9 percent of college-aged men suffer from such issues, with 3 percent reporting binge eating and self-induced vomiting.

Despite what is known about disordered eating on college campuses, U-M researchers believe there is more to be done to understand and respond to these issues. A multidisciplinary team of faculty, researchers and counselors from the School of Public Health, School of Education, the Medical School, University Health Service, and Counseling and Psychological Services developed U-SHAPE: University Study of Habits, Attitudes, and Perceptions around Eating.

“U-SHAPE’s large-scale web-based survey is designed to gather important information about the ways in which individual characteristics as well as the campus environment influence students’ relationships with eating, dieting, exercise and body image, and how these relationships, in turn, fit into a larger picture of student mental health,” said Sarah Ketchen Lipson, a doctoral student at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education. “The goal is that data gathered through U-SHAPE will inform policy and programming on our campus and at colleges and universities across the country.”

Dr. Suzanne Dooley-Hash, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the U-M Health System, has conducted considerable research on adolescent eating disorders. She notes the void that U-SHAPE is poised to fill.

“Most of the studies out there on disordered eating among college students have focused on a specific subset of the student population—athletic teams, psychology classes, sorority members and other smaller, targeted samples,” she said. “We are conducting our study using a random survey of 10,000 University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students. Our goal is to understand their habits, attitudes and perceptions of eating and body image in a way that can inform future research and practice.”

The U-SHAPE survey was developed with the input of campus administrators and experts in the field of college student mental health, and has been pre-tested with undergraduate and graduate students. The survey will officially launch Oct. 2. Results are expected by the end of the year.


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