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J Eat Disord. 2015 Sep 17;3:33. doi: 10.1186/s40337-015-0070-2. eCollection 2015.

The rise of eating disorders in Asia: a review.

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Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York, USA ; New York State Psychiatric Institute, Unit 9, Rm. 5808, 1051 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10032 USA.
Department of Clinical & Counseling Psychology, Columbia University (Teachers College), New York, USA.


Once concentrated among adolescent Caucasian females in high-income Western countries, today, eating disorders (EDs) are truly global. Building upon previous work describing the rise of EDs among cultures in transition, we contextualize the emergence of EDs in Asia by locating this development within the broader discourse about the processes of change that have radically transformed Asian societies over the last three decades. By identifying where EDs are emerging in the region, and by examining their particular expression, our aim is to explicate a fuller story of the relationship between culture and eating disorders. Much of the discussion of EDs in non-Western societies is predicated upon the assumption that an increase in EDs is the by-product of "Westernization", the term used to describe the process by which increased cultural contact with the West results in the transmission of so-called 'Western' ideas and cultural norms to a non-Western culture. While the Westernization literature represents a historical anchor in our understanding of EDs in Asia, we propose that this analysis is incomplete in that societal change in the form of industrialization and urbanization occurring independently from, or in tandem with, "Western" influence are critical factors contributing to the rise of EDs in Asia. Further, our review of eating disorders in Asia suggests that an understanding of the diversity and distinctiveness of the individual countries and cultures that comprise 'Asia' is crucial to understanding the emergence and rise of EDs across this vast region, suggesting that eating disorders are not culture-bound or culture-specific, but rather culture-reactive. Taking into account both the historical influence of Western culture and the more contemporary effects of Asian industrialization and urbanization, key distinctions among respective Asian cultures expands our understanding of the development and expression of EDs globally.


Anorexia nervosa; Asia; Body image; Culture; Development; Dieting; Eating disorders; Globalization; Nutrition transition; Prevalence; Risk factor; Urbanization; Westernization

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