Self-Esteem and Disordered Eating in African American Youth

Self-Esteem and Disordered Eating in African American Youth poster

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Audio Transcript


Research Authorship:

Carly Wagner, Samantha Ronderos, & Dawn Witherspoon, Ph.D.

Faculty Mentor:

Dr. Dawn Witherspoon | College of Arts and Sciences | Department of Psychology


Background: 30% of girls and 15% of boys engaging in disordered eating (DE) behaviors, such as irregular eating behaviors like bingeing, fasting, or purging (Campbell & Peebles, 2014). Low self-esteem has been found to have a significant impact on the development of mental health disorders (Stadelmann et al., 2017). Youth are susceptible to developing low self-esteem because of the developmental and social milestones that are experienced during this time (Chung et al., 2017). Although previous studies have found a relationship between DE and self-esteem, little research has focused on how self- esteem impacts DE in African Americans (AA).

Aims: To learn how self-esteem, relate to DE behaviors in AA youth. We predict that children with lower self-esteem will exhibit more DE behaviors.

Methods: 235 male (50.6%) and female (49.4%) youth (mean age 13.2) from low-income, predominantly AA urban communities participated. The Children’s Eating Attitudes Test (ChEAT) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (SES) were self- administered to assess psychosocial functioning.

Results: For self-esteem, there was no significant difference between males and females. Results indicated that girls have higher levels of DE than boys, t (182.71)= -3.38, p < .01. However, the relationship between SE and DE was only significant for females r (93) = .48, p < .001.

Conclusions: Results indicate that male and female AA adolescents did not differ in self-esteem but females exhibited significantly more DE behaviors. For AA adolescents, self-esteem was related to DE behavior only in females.


My name is Carly Wagner and I am Psychology graduate student. I worked on this poster with another graduate psychology student Samantha Ronderos along with my mentor Dr, Witherspoon. For this poster “Self-esteem and disordered eating in African American youth,” we examined how self-esteem is related to disordered eating in African American’s aged 11-16.

Disordered eating is a variety of abnormal eating behaviors that does not reach the criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis. For example, Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping and Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to “make up for bad foods” consumed. There is evidence that low self-esteem is a significant risk factor in predicting disordered eating. Although previous findings have found a relationship between disordered eating and self-esteem, little research has been used to identify how self- esteem impacts a child’s disordered eating level, using African Americans. The majority of studies examining eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors focus on college age, white females. We hypothesized that children with lower self-esteem will exhibit more disordered eating behaviors.

For our study we recruited participants from a school-based obesity prevention program RCT that was implemented in middle schools in a large Mid Atlantic city. The sample for this study was 235 male and female youth from low-income communities. The measures that we used was the Children’s Eating Attitudes Test (ChEAT) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (SES). They both were self- administered to assess psychosocial functioning.  The ChEAT is a 26-item assessment that is administered to children under the age of 15 with the purpose of examining eating behaviors. The SES is a widely used measure of global self-esteem and it consists of 10 items with a 4-point rating scale. 

We found that there was a relationship between self-esteem and disordered eating, however, the relationship was only significant for females. The second and third scatter plot graph illustrates this relationship. As you can see in the graphs, there is a significant negative correlation between self-esteem and disordered eating. Also Females (4.5%) exhibited higher ratings of anorexia compared to males. Regarding disordered eating, girls had higher levels than boys. The first graph shows the mean levels of disordered eating between females and males. Females had an average cheat score of 10.44 and males had an average cheat score of 7.38. There were 16 participants who had a higher cheat score then the cutoff of 20 or higher, 3 boys and 13 girls. For self-esteem, girls and boys had similar levels.

There were a few limitations with this study. Measures were self-administered and contained sensitive questions, which could lead to underreporting. Since the sample only contained AA participants, generalizability is limited to this population. Future research should address these limitations along with considering pubertal timing, especially early pubertal development because hormones and prominent developmental changes are associated with disordered eating. Looking at other psychosocial factors like depression and anxiety would be important to consider in order to identify other risk factors for developing disordered eating. Another aspect to think about in the future is parent-feeding styles because it impacts the diet quantity and quality of a child’s eating early on, which influences the individuals eating habits.

If you have questions about anything please send me an email and I will get back to you

Thank you!

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