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Despite Higher Risks, Eating Disorder Rates At BYU Lower Than National Average

Women entering college tend to face an increased risk of eating disorders, especially those who are Caucasian, religious and achievement orientated. Though these risk factors describe many students at Brigham Young University, new research from the school shows women there are bucking the national trend.

Researchers from BYU conducted a longitudinal study, tracking hundreds of women’s responses to eating disorder questionnaires over three years.

LaNae Valentine, director of Women’s Services and Resources at BYU, said she and her fellow researchers wanted to determine if students came to school with disordered eating, or if the problems developed during their time at BYU.

“We found that the eating disorder behaviors that were presented by the instruments that we gave them actually reduced during their time at BYU, so there was less occurrence of eating disorder symptomology their senior year than there was coming in,” Valentine explained.

Valentine said she hopes it was effective prevention efforts that helped BYU see a lower rate of disorders than other universities.

“Somehow, the BYU environment had some sort of a stabilizing effect,” she added. “Instead of it making it worse, it actually made it better.”

Researchers say leaving one’s family or social support system can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. One theory proposed by BYU researchers suggests that the LDS culture softens the transition to college life.

“The students at BYU, unlike other universities, belong to student wards and they have student family home evening groups and they do a lot of student activities,” Valentine said. “They get a lot of religious instruction about the sacredness of the body and the importance of the body and treating the body well; all of that might have an effect as well.”

The study was published in Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy.