Body weight, life satisfaction, and psychological distress in adolescent males and females of different racial groups

Carolyn E Bromley, Fordham University


This study examined the relationship between desire for thinness and psychological distress and life satisfaction in male and female adolescents across racial groups and weight categories (i.e., underweight, normal weight, or overweight individuals). The study targeted adolescents since it is during this time of development that body dissatisfaction levels are at their highest, and as a result, these individuals are at especially high risk for developing an eating disorder. Since a predominant number of research studies focus on Caucasian females as the group most influenced by Western society's pressure to be thin, this study compared Caucasian Americans with African Americans and Hispanic Americans. The participants were 225 students from two high schools in New York and Connecticut suburbs and 197 college freshmen from a private college in Manhattan. The sample was composed of 39% Caucasian Americans, 27% African Americans, 18% Hispanic Americans, and 16% Asian Americans. The number of males and females were almost equal, 202 and 220 participants respectively. All participants completed questionnaire packets in their classroom which contained a demographic survey, the Brief Symptom Inventory, the Extended Satisfaction with Life Scale, and items from the Eating Disorder Inventory. A reliability index and correlation coefficients were computed for the subscales of the BSI and ESWLS in order to determine which variables would be appropriate for further investigation in this study. Descriptive statistics were calculated, followed by a series of analyses of variance (ANOVA) which used a combination of race, gender, weight category, or drive for thinness level as the independent variables and psychological distress, general life satisfaction, satisfaction with physical appearance, desire for thinness, and weight discrepancy as the dependent variables. Contrary to a consensus in much of the existing literature and the predictions for this study, no significant differences were found among racial groups in their desire for thinness. Furthermore, no differences were found in levels of psychological distress and life satisfaction among all the racial groups. This suggests that Caucasian Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans are all subject to developing disordered eating cognitions and behaviors that at some point could develop into a more serious eating disorder. However, when comparing actual body weight to desired weight among all racial groups, the Caucasian Americans showed the greatest desire to lose weight while African Americans showed the greatest desire to gain weight. There were significant differences found between males and females in their desire for thinness, weight discrepancy, satisfaction with general life, satisfaction with physical appearance, and level of psychological distress. Females, on average, had greater desires for thinness, higher psychological distress, and lower life satisfaction than males, on average. Weight category was also an important variable. Overweight individuals were the most distressed with their present body weight and had the highest desire for thinness as compared with normal weight and underweight individuals. An important limitation of this study was that level of acculturation was not measured. All of the students were attending a public high school or a racially/ethnically diverse urban college and were thus exposed to dominant viewpoints related to ideal body shapes. Therefore, it is unclear whether these findings could be replicated if the research participants were ensconced in communities where their own racial/ethnic identities were fully endorsed.

Subject Area

Cognitive therapy|Psychotherapy|Social psychology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Behaviorial sciences

Recommended Citation

Bromley, Carolyn E, "Body weight, life satisfaction, and psychological distress in adolescent males and females of different racial groups" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9938896.