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Open Access Research article

Gender, school and academic year differences among Spanish university students at high-risk for developing an eating disorder: An epidemiologic study

Ana R Sepulveda12*, Jose A Carrobles1 and Ana M Gandarillas2

Author Affiliations

1 School of Psychology, Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain

2 Epidemiology Department, Public Health Institute. Region of Madrid, Spain

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:102  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-102

Published: 28 March 2008

Abstract

Background

The aim of this study was to assess the magnitude of the university population at high-risk of developing an eating disorder and the prevalence of unhealthy eating attitudes and behaviours amongst groups at risk; gender, school or academic year differences were also explored.

Methods

A cross-sectional study based on self-report was used to screen university students at high-risk for an eating disorder. The sample size was of 2551 university students enrolled in 13 schools between the ages of 18 and 26 years. The instruments included: a social-demographic questionnaire, the Eating Disorders Inventory (EDI), the Body Shape Questionnaire (BSQ), the Symptom Check List 90-R (SCL-90-R), and the Self-Esteem Scale (RSE). The sample design is a non-proportional stratified sample by academic year and school. The prevalence rate was estimated controlling academic year and school. Logistic regression analysis was used to investigate adjusted associations between gender, school and academic year.

Results

Female students presented unhealthy weight-control behaviours as dieting, laxatives use or self-induced vomiting to lose weight than males. A total of 6% of the females had a BMI of 17.5 or less or 2.5% had amenorrhea for 3 or more months. In contrast, a higher proportion of males (11.6%) reported binge eating behaviour. The prevalence rate of students at high-risk for an eating disorder was 14.9% (11.6–18) for males and 20.8% (18.7–22.8) for females, according to an overall cut-off point on the EDI questionnaire. Prevalence rates presented statistically significant differences by gender (p < 0.001) but not by school or academic year.

Conclusion

The prevalence of eating disorder risk in university students is high and is associated with unhealthy weight-control practices, similar results have been found in previous studies using cut-off points in questionnaires. These results may be taken into account to encourage early detection and a greater awareness for seeking treatment in order to improve the diagnosis, among students on university campuses.