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Open Access Research article

Mental health impairment in underweight women: do body dissatisfaction and eating-disordered behavior play a role?

Jonathan Mond1*, Bryan Rodgers2, Phillipa Hay3 and Cathy Owen4

Author Affiliations

1 School of Sociology, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

2 Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

3 School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney, Campbelltown, Australia

4 Rural Clinical School, Medical School, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:547  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-547

Published: 10 July 2011

Abstract

Background

We sought to evaluate the hypothesis that mental health impairment in underweight women, where this occurs, is due to an association between low body weight and elevated levels of body dissatisfaction and/or eating-disordered behaviour.

Methods

Subgroups of underweight and normal-weight women recruited from a large, general population sample were compared on measures of body dissatisfaction, eating-disordered behaviour and mental health.

Results

Underweight women had significantly greater impairment in mental health than normal-weight women, even after controlling for between-group differences in demographic characteristics and physical health. However, there was no evidence that higher levels of body dissatisfaction or eating-disordered behaviour accounted for this difference. Rather, underweight women had significantly lower levels of body dissatisfaction and eating-disordered behaviour than normal-weight women.

Conclusions

The findings suggest that mental health impairment in underweight women, where this occurs, is unlikely to be due to higher levels of body dissatisfaction or eating-disordered behaviour. Rather, lower levels of body dissatisfaction and eating-disordered behaviour among underweight women may counterbalance, to some extent, impairment due to other factors.

Keywords:
Body dissatisfaction; eating-disordered behaviour; mental health; underweight; women