The Perceived Need, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Individuals with Eating Disorders in College Students

Stephanie Budhan ‘20

Figure 1. Eating disorders are often a condition stereotypically associated with skinny, white females.

An eating disorder (ED) is a condition characterized by abnormal eating behaviors and a negative attitude towards food. Eating disorders are one of the deadliest types of mental illness yet remain under-treated within the population. Only one-third of individuals suffering from an ED have received treatment. Under-treatment of an ED is likely due to misconceptions about them. For example, it is generally perceived that white females primarily develop EDs. Thus, people of color with EDs may not recognize the seriousness of their condition and fail to seek out treatment.

Thus, there is a need to examine how individual factors such as weight status, race/ethnicity, and sex are associated with an individual’s perception of their own eating disorder and need to receive treatment. Professor Kendrin Sonneville and other researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health sought to investigate these individual factors by surveying 1,747 students at participating colleges in the United States. Students were asked to fill out a survey that asked extensively demographic information such as including sex, race/ethnicity, and socio-economic background. Furthermore, participants were screened for eating disorder symptoms and questioned about their perceived need for treatment using a Likert scale.

The researchers found that individuals with eating disorders who were white and affluent were more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, receive treatment within the past year, and most importantly be perceived to need treatment for an eating disorder. While underweight individuals were more likely to be diagnosed or perceived to be in need of treatment, people of color were not. Researchers believe that these disparities in perceived ED treatment are due not only to public wide misconception, but also to clinicians who are susceptible to these stereotypical beliefs. Although issues like self-reporting of ED symptoms served as limitations, this study emphasizes the harmfulness of ED misconceptions in the public.



  1. K. Sonneville & S. Lipson. Disparities in eating disorder diagnosis and treatment according to weight status, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic background,and sex among college students. International Journal of Eating Disorders 51, 518-526 (2018). doi:  
  2. Image retrieved from:

One thought on “The Perceived Need, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Individuals with Eating Disorders in College Students

  1. This blog is so important!!! Thank you for posting!!! I support anyone trying to break ridiculous misconceptions/stereotypes around body size and eating disorders. It’s so harmful and stops so many
    People from getting help


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