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Sex differences in attitudes towards females with eating disorders

Makowski, Anna Christin, Mnich, Eva E., Angermeyer, Matthias C., Löwe, Bernd, von dem Knesebeck, Olaf
Eating behaviors 2015 v.16 pp. 78-83
anorexia nervosa, attitudes and opinions, bulimia nervosa, childhood, females, gender differences, men, regression analysis, sexual abuse, surveys, telephones, women
This study aims to examine the public’s attitudes and predictors of social distance towards women afflicted by eating disorders (anorexia nervosa [AN] and bulimia nervosa [BN]) under specific consideration of the respondents’ sex. Eating disorders are still often seen as a women’s health issue, and those afflicted remain stigmatized in Western societies. The concept of social distance is a frequently used indicator in awareness campaigns. Sex-specific results could add important information to destigmatization programs.Data originate from a German telephone survey which was conducted in 2011. Vignettes with signs and symptoms either suggestive of AN or BN were presented to the respondents randomly, who subsequently answered questions regarding beliefs about causes, contact to persons afflicted as well as desire for social distance. Stratified multiple linear regression analyses according to disorder under study were performed to examine associations between different predictors and desire for social distance.There were significant sex differences in desire for social distance, causal attributions, and emotional reactions towards women with eating disorders. E.g., with respect to AN, women exhibited a significantly greater desire for social distance than men (p<.001), and more frequently believed that AN could be caused by sexual abuse during childhood. Regarding predictors of social distance, there was a significant positive association between age and desire for social distance equally among men and women. However, distinct sex differences came into effect concerning other predictors depending on the eating disorder under study. In BN, attribution of brain disease emerged as significant predictor of social distance among men. This is not true for women, where the attribution of weak will significantly predicted the desire for social distance.Sex-dependent differences in attitudes and predictors of social distance towards females afflicted should be met with tailored measures in anti-stigma campaigns, addressing women and men on different levels.