Students of Dietetics and Nutrition: At Increased Risk of Eating Disorders?

A Portuguese study found one area of concern.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
March/April Volume 25, Number 2
©2014 iaedp

Some prior studies have suggested that students of dietetics and nutrition may be particularly vulnerable to developing eating disorders.

Vanessa Mealha and a team from the Laboratory of Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Lisbon designed an observational cross-sectional study to assess eating behavior, food habits and physical activity among three groups of women (Nutr Hosp. 2013; 28:1558). The 189 women included students of dietetics and nutrition (DN), students of nuclear medicine and orthopedics, and students from environmental and agricultural engineering. All completed validated questionnaires, including the Eating Disorder Inventory (EAT), In addition, the researchers evaluated body composition to assess the nutritional status among the women.

Participants’ weight, height, and waist circumference were measured, and body mass index was calculated. Body composition was assessed with bipolar bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). Usual dietary intake was measured with a modified version of the Food Frequency Questionnaire. In this study, the 86 food items were reorganized into 21 groups (instead of the usual 8 groups) in an attempt to get more in-depth information. To assess physical activity, the study participants completed the short version of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire, providing information on time spent walking, practicing moderate- and high-intensity activities, and inactivity.

Concern about body weight

One-third of the patients were studying for dietetic-nutrition degrees, 34.9% were working on other health degrees, and 31.8% were studying for non-health degrees. Eating attitudes among DN students and students from other departments were similar, and no differences in motivation to lose weight or bulimic behaviors were found. However, DN students had lower average scores on the measure for social pressure to eat. A similar picture emerged for students who had EAT scores of 19 or higher, (6.3% were DN students, 4.5% were working on other health degrees, and 1.7% were from non-health-related departments). DN students had the healthiest eating habits, the highest percentage of normal weight, no cardiometabolic risks, and also reported more often using moderate or intense physical activity than did the other two groups. Thus, differences were seen between groups on dietary and physical activity variables but few differences were seen on eating disorder variables.

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