An Integrated Model of Eating Disorder Risk and Protective Factors


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An Integrated Model of Eating Disorder Risk and Protective Factors is a well-researched Social and Behavioral Sciences thesis/Dissertation topic, it is to be used as a guide or framework for your Academic Research.


Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors are significant public health concerns, especially among college-age women. Despite extensive research, the complex nature of disordered eating and its etiology has prevented a satisfactory predictive model from being developed and validated and has therefore hindered the development of effective prevention and intervention strategies.

This study aimed to integrate four of the most common etiology call theories into a model to predict disordered eating behaviors. Bivariate correlations and moderation analyses were conducted to determine the strength of relationships between variables and to determine whether a protective factor (i.e., self-compassion) moderates the effects of risk factors (i.e., media exposure, thin-ideal internalization, negative affect) on body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and bulimic behaviors.

Results indicated that there were correlations between negative affect, thin-ideal internalization, and disordered eating behaviors. Contrary to hypotheses, media exposure had significant relationships with both bulimia and body dissatisfaction but was not significantly associated with thin-ideal internalization. Broadly, negative affect and thin-ideal internalization predicted disordered eating behaviors.

Finally, self-compassion did not emerge as a consistent moderator of the relationship between the three risk factors and disordered eating behaviors – except with drive for thinness. Findings have potential implications for mental and physical healthcare interventions to reduce symptom experiences and increase well-being.


The prevalence of eating disorders has been gradually increasing over the past several decades and now includes approximately 30 million individuals in the United States alone (National Eating Disorders Association [NEDA], 2016). This increase in eating disorders has been occurring alongside a consistent decrease in ideal body size since the 1950s (Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw, & Stein, 1994).

Body dissatisfaction occurs at an even higher rate than eating disorders endorsed by approximately 68% of the college-age female population examined in one study – and is a robust predictor of later disordered eating (Forney & Ward, 2013). College women appear to be more vulnerable to the effects of body dissatisfaction than the general population, due to their higher likelihood of engaging in social comparisons and are therefore at the highest risk for disordered eating (Pinkasavage, Arigo, & Schumacher, 2015).

Research regarding the risk factors for eating disorders and body dissatisfaction has increased substantially since this type of research first began to flourish around 1980, particularly because of the high likelihood of negative health and mental health outcomes from disordered eating behaviors (Currin, Schmidt, Treasure, & Jick, 2005). Despite the plethora of research available regarding eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, and their risk factors, there is a lack of consistency regarding some important concepts in this field – specifically, the proposed relationship between media exposure and disordered eating symptomology. Some researchers find strong relationships between these variables (Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008), others emphasize a mediational model between the two (Stice et al., 1994), and some find no relationship (Bell & Dittmar, 2011; Ferguson, Muñoz, Garza, & Galindo, 2014). Several explanations for these differences in findings are possible, with the two most likely being the theoretical model utilized and the operational definitions of the variables used – as both influences the conceptualization of findings.

For example, many researchers emphasize the role of mass media in the development of eating disorders (Becker, Burwell, Navara, & Gilman, 2003; Stice et al., 1994); however, no formal scale of media exposure is published for use in research, meaning that each study has the potential to view media exposure differently (Ferguson et al., 2014).

As media exposure is a common risk factor cited in the literature, many studies use theoretical models that emphasize the role of media in their own conceptualization of eating disorders (e.g., Tripartite Influence Model; van den Berg, Thompson, Obremski-Brandon, & Coovert, 2002).

While this may be beneficial in some regards, other researchers note that such models may neglect many other important contributors to disordered eating symptomology, such as negative affect (Tylka and Kroon Van Diest, 2015).

Further, while risk factors for eating disorders are heavily researched, protective factors are addressed less often (Levine & Smolak, 2016). Piran (2015) states that the predictive value of risk factors alone is low; however when viewed alongside potential protective factors, the predictive power of the model is increased substantially.

To that end, self-compassion, or treating oneself like a loved one, has been consistently found to reduce functional impairment, various symptoms of psychopathology, and subjective distress (Neff, 2003b).

Self-compassion has been researched in relation to eating disorders infrequently; however, initial findings suggest it’s effectiveness for treatment and prevention (Braun, Park, & Gorin, 2016). As treatment for eating disorders has, historically, produced only mild to moderate improvement in the short-term, further exploration of potential etiological models is essential.


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