Eating Disorders: Complex Social Diseases

Eating Disorders: Complex Social Diseases

A Media Driven Disorder

Eating disorders are complex social diseases. While these conditions are considered social diseases their exact causes remain a mystery. An important aspect of eating disorders is their impact on hunger. Hunger is considered to be a biological as well as psychological urge but when an eating disorder is present this urge seems to fail (Pinel, 2011). When needs such as hunger are viewed within this framework it becomes apparent that eating disorders are complex social diseases that are impacted through many different factors such as gender, culture, and motivational elements.

The concept of hunger is typically viewed as a psychological force known as a drive or need. The drive theory or better known as drive reduction-theory posits that hunger is a physiological urge or stress that compels the person to satisfy the urge (Pinel, 2011). In the case of hunger, the person is compelled to eat. This urge seems to fail in cases of eating disorders as individuals seem capable of overcoming the urge to eat to the point of dying. This situation indicates that hunger is not merely drive based on food needs as it can be impacted by other factors.

Anorexia and Bulimia are both considered social diseases which are thought to be the result of social pressures (American Psychological Association, 2011). This factor tends to create a complex effect on hunger that is seen both in gender and in cultural differences. Within the framework of gender, eating disorders seem to be more prevalent in women but this could be the result of underreporting:

Males account for 10% — 15% of bulimic patients, meaning that 0.2% of all males meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of bulimia (Carlat, Camargo & Herzog 1997). Males account for 5%-10% of anorectics (Braun, Sunday, Huang &Halmi 1999). It is believed that 40% of binge-eating disorders occur in males (Russell & Keel 2002). The number of reported cases on males might be significantly underreported, because men may be reluctant to seek help thinking that eating disorders only occur in females or fail to recognize the problem as an eating disorder (Wegenka, 2015).

Eating disorders have become gender biased in this manner due to many cultural stereotypes and beliefs concerning them. As a result, the true number of men who suffer from eating disorders may difficult to ascertain. Culture seems to play the largest factor in eating disorder development. Once can see this in Western societies which place a large emphasis on physical beauty. An example of this cultural factor can be seen in the manner in which eating disorders are spread through cultural sharing. In 1995, American television began airing in Fiji. Prior to this event the view of beauty in Fiji was based on the idea of a person being muscular and robust (BBC, 1999). By 1998, 74% of teenage girls felt they were too large or overweight (BBC, 1999). Approximately15% of girls reported using vomiting as a form of weight loss (BBC, 1999). Situations such as in Fiji show that culture can play tremendous role in the development of eating disorders.

Eating disorders can be explained in some ways by motivational theories, specifically: intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivation is an internalized motivation such as having a sense of pride or feeling of accomplishment for performing in a specific manner. Extrinsic motivations are those motivation which are externalized such as receiving a gift or reward for good performance.

In the case of eating disorders, an intrinsic motivation may be derived from cultural factors in which the person is compelled to not eat in order to achieve a desired look. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that this motivational mechanism is at work:

There is a larger social emphasis on the ideal female body, which would help to explain why more women develop eating disorders. Males in certain social situations where body weight and shape are important have an increased risk of developing eating disorders and body dissatisfaction. Wrestlers and jockeys are two examples of groups of males that are pressured to maintain a certain body weight (Wegenka, 2015).

In the case of eating disorders, the intrinsic motivation is defined by social pressures and this causes the person to seek this ideal extrinsic prize or look (Pinel, 2011). This goal, in most cases, is unrealistic which forces the person into a syndrome in which they continue seeking to fulfil this intrinsic motivation. These forms of motivation are most likely some of the root causes of eating disorders. But motivation and hunger theories do not fully explain eating disorder and it is likely that there are many other factors which must be considered such as self-concept, self-efficacy, and self-worth. More research is needed in this area.


American Psychological Association. (2011, October). Eating Disorders. Retrieved from American Psychological Association:

BBC. (1999, May 20). Health ‘TV brings eating disorders to Fiji’ . Retrieved from BBC:

Pinel, J. P. (2011). Biopsychology, Eighth Edition. Boston, Mass: Allyn & Bacon. Pearson Education, Inc.

Wegenka, M. (2015). Gender Differences and Eating Disorders. Retrieved from Vanderbilt University:

Photo by K8 on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Mon, Feb 01, 2021. Eating Disorders: Complex Social Diseases Retrieved from

Need similar articles?

Health Or Nursing Or Psychology
Back to: Ten Years of Academic Writing