Eating Disorder Rates Linked to Depression in Women
Experts say that the current rate of eating disorders in teenagers in Cyprus is relatively high at 35 percent compared to 20 percent in the EU or US, and one study has linked these diseases with depression and lower self-esteem in Cypriot women.
Getting to the root of why eating disorders are so prevalent in Cypriot teens is difficult since it is such a sensitive topic that is linked with culture, mental health, family situation and overall health. So each study can only reveal part of the overall picture of this growing threat to Cypriots' mental and physical wellbeing.
Frederick University lecturer Ioanna Katsounari's study focuses on how depression and low self-esteem trigger disordered eating in Cypriot women. It was published in 2009 and compares 70 British women and 70 Cypriot women aged 19-25 years old at university campuses.
British women have higher self esteem
The average self-esteem score for British women in the survey was higher than the average score for Cypriot women. Meanwhile, the average depression score for the British women was lower than the Cypriot sample. And overall, Cypriot women showed more "disturbed eating behaviors" than the British women.
So, there is a significant link between depression, self-esteem and eating disorders, and the study shows that Cypriot women also had generally higher disordered eating attitudes. This means they are more vulnerable to developing full-blown problems with serious eating disorder diseases like anorexia and bulimia.
"Cypriots more pathologically avoid fattening foods and are more preoccupied with their bodies in comparison with the British," says Katsounaris in her study.
But what is behind all these behaviors? According to Katsounari's study, there are many reasons; cultural, climate-linked, economic factors, a change in body shape values and more.
As Cyprus has a warm climate, women wear more revealing clothes, so "the high visibility of the Cypriot women's body possibly leads to increased self-awareness about their figure and the importance of making a good impression," says the study. Connected to this is the natural comparison that Cypriot women make between their bodies and those of women tourists who come from Germany, Russia, Britain and Scandinavia.
"It can be argued that this comparison leads to the creation of a complex of inferiority which leads to a decrease in self-esteem related to how a woman values her attractiveness and a susceptibility of Cypriot women to disordered eating patterns as a way of improving their appearance," says Katsounaris.
Struggling to stay 'thin and in'
The small size of Cypriot society is another contributing factor as it has a limited tolerance for new, revolutionary ideas and strong social cliques which stigmatise obesity and body fat.
"The continuous struggle of Cypriot women with their natural need for food is in contradiction with the 'desirable'...which is to stay slim in order to gain social approval," says Katsounaris.
This constant struggle can cause depression and prevent them from enjoying their food.
The role of the media, which promotes the concept of thinness, could have a significant impact. Women compare their own bodies to those of media images, and importantly, judge their level of acceptance and approval with their peers on them.
"There is a tendency in Cypriot TV to adopt the Western look and style that is perceived as popular and this is particularly evident in entertainment shows targeted towards the youth," she says.
Another reason behind the increased complexes around food is economic; since Cyprus developed so quickly after 1974, it had a "tremendous impact on the general social behaviour of the Cypriots who have been facing the challenge of rejecting their eastern identity and adopting western attitudes and standards of life," says Katsounaris. The transformation was sudden and so was the change in lifestyle.
"As a result, the emphasis has been on the display of wealth in every aspect of life, but notably in food consumption, designer clothes and the ownership of expensive clothes and properties," says Katsounaris.
But while the external appearance is of wealth, underneath it all, Cypriots remain very traditional, which is a contradiction leading to "tremendous social upheaval and cultural imbalance." Cypriot women therefore face identity issues on top of the dilemma of choosing between successful careers and the family role, says Katsounaris. Added to this pressure is a dramatic change in dietary habits through the introduction of fast-food chains which sell foods that are high in fats and sugar.
"This influenced directly the quality and choice of food available, since the busy daily program of the Cypriots leaves less free time for the preparation of traditional Cypriot meals," says Katsounaris.
Katsounaris concludes that a high level of concern with weight and eating was found in Cypriot women and that it is important to conduct larger studies to examine the phenomenon.