A multicontextual study of environmental influences on the development of eating disordered symptomology in adolescents

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Peterson, Kathleen A.
Paulson, Sharon E.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of Educational Psychology
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Eating disorder symptoms are serious and prevalent problems in industrialized societies. Although many studies have individually investigated the influence of environmental factors on the development of eating disorder symptoms, few have considered the relative and cumulative impact of various contexts within the same study. The current study was conducted to examine the influence of the mass media, mothers, and peers on the development of eating disorder symptomology in male and female adolescents using an ecological model proposed by Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1979, 1986, 1988, 1995). Specifically investigated were students' perceptions of pressures exerted by the media and significant others to lose weight and be physically attractive. Tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade adolescents in a suburban community were surveyed through self-report questionnaires; the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT), select subscales of the Eating Disorder Inventory-2 (EDI-2), and a modified version of the Multidimensional Media Influence Scale (MMIS). Multivariate analyses of variance indicated that female students acknowledged higher levels of eating disorder symptomology and higher perceived pressures from mothers and the media than did males. Significant grade level differences were found only in levels of body dissatisfaction between sophomores and juniors. Canonical correlations showed that those students who perceived greater pressures across environmental contexts also reported more eating disorder symptomology. Further analyses of these findings are described. Implications for future research and prevention programs are discussed.