Young Asian American women tend to have cultural and family influences that discourage them from seeking help for eating disorders, according to new research led by Yuying Tsong, Cal State Fullerton associate professor in human services.
Compared with a general population with eating disorders, young Asian American women displayed some common themes, the study found, including:
- Lack of knowledge of eating disorders, which extended to their parents
- Lack of knowledge of treatment available or how to seek treatment
The study is one of few in eating disorder literature to examine Asian Americans in particular, Tsong said; most focus on white Americans. But what research there is indicates that while Asian Americans are at equal risk for eating disorders, they are often misdiagnosed or under-diagnosed.
“So there is a stereotype that Asian American women don’t have as many eating disorders as white women do,” Tsong said.
Compounding matters is the fact that Asian Americans are half as likely as white Americans to seek mental health services in general, a 2016 review of studies on the subject showed.
The topic has intrigued Tsong since she did post-doctoral clinical work in counseling at UC Irvine and noticed that concerns with body image often came up with Asian American women, even if they hadn’t sought help specifically for that issue. She talked with other clinicians, including her collaborator on the most recent study, Cal State Fullerton associate professor Rebekah Smart, from the Department of Counseling, and discovered they shared similar experiences.
The latest research builds on a study published in 2011 by the two women, who led a team that collected observations from 12 therapists with expertise in eating disorders. The therapists viewed Asian American clients as being under considerably more pressure to be thin and to achieve, compared with clients across all cultures. Parents strongly encouraged thinness, perhaps influenced by the belief that it was key to their daughters’ success in the United States.
Most of these clients were first- and second-generation and still in the stressful process of acculturation. The messages they were receiving, according to the 2011 study, were to adapt to the U.S. mainstream through professional success; conform to Asian gender…