Impulsivity in African-American Girls with Bulimia

Bulimia has been linked to psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and substance misuse. Other behavioral problems, including aggression, oppositional defiance, and impulsivity, have also been shown to increase the risk for disordered eating and bulimia in white American girls. However, to date there has been little research focusing on how these behaviors and mental health issues contribute to the development of bulimia in African-American girls. Previous studies have demonstrated that externalizing behaviors predict eating issues, but this relationship has not been examined longitudinally. To address this gap, Lindsay P. Bodell of the Department of Psychology at Florida State University recently led a study that looked at how conduct behavior and impulsivity influenced the onset of bulimia in African American girls over a period of 9 years.

Bodell evaluated data collected from 119 African-American first grade girls who were part of a larger study piloted by the Johns Hopkins University Baltimore Prevention Research Center. Bodell analyzed data that was gathered yearly as the girls who were part of a control condition or classroom intervention program progressed from first grade to tenth grade. She found that contrary to prior research, conduct issues and oppositional behavior did not predict bulimia in the participants. However, impulsivity exhibited in youth was a significant risk factor for the later development of disordered eating in general and bulimia in particular.

Bodell believes that lack of behavioral control may contribute to impulsivity, which could cause young girls to sustain a lack of control in other behavioral areas such as eating and substance use. Additionally, impulsivity could also be a catalyst for poor socialization, which could influence future externalizing behaviors in this sample of adolescents. Overall, the results provide evidence that impulsivity is a clear risk factor for bulimia, and children being treated for impulsive behaviors should be monitored closely for eating problems. Clinicians who recognize externalizing behaviors, particularly in young African American girls, may want to implement strategies to help prevent the onset of bulimia in adolescence. Bodell added, “In future studies, researchers should track the trajectory of associations between externalizing behaviors and disordered eating in prepuberty (e.g., prior to the tenth grade) and should specifically compare the relationship between externalizing behaviors and bulimic symptoms in different racial and ethnic groups.”

Bodell, L. P., Joiner, T. E., Ialongo, N. S. (2012, January 30). Longitudinal Association Between Childhood Impulsivity and Bulimic Symptoms in African American Adolescent Girls. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027093

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  • Donelle


    February 10th, 2012 at 5:19 AM

    Sadly, eating disorders know no cultural or racial boundaries. This is something that affects young men and women of all backgrounds, and to study the differing ways that it effects each group is a huge step forward in designing treatment and intervention plans that will suit anyone that is facing this.

  • africa coleman

    africa coleman

    February 10th, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    Black girls are not in to all that scary skinny stuff like white girls are. Look at the stats- I bet that far less than half of the eating disorders cases are made up of black girls. That is not something as valued in that society as maybe it is in others.

  • Camille


    February 11th, 2012 at 6:43 AM

    The overall relationship and attitudes toward food and eating behaviors is always going to vary from place to place, region to region, and yes from culture to culture.

    There are sommunities where if you are skinny you are thought to be poor. Fat is the way to be! There are others where being fat is to be jusdged harshly, and that is the way of the Western world in which we live.

    African american bulimics have the same issues going on that most of us do. They are trying to achieve this level of perfection that for most of us cannot be attained. That is the problem here that we are having a hard time solving- changing society to think about health and beauty in a different way.

  • Grace


    February 12th, 2012 at 5:59 AM

    I never thought that bad behavior led to eating disorders, but that rather the disorder itself can cause one to become irrational and more prone to acting out. If your electrolytes and eating are all out of balance then it goes without saying that other areas of your life are going to suffer as well.

  • mena


    February 13th, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Why does this have to be a racial issue?
    Why is it that everything always seems to have to be broken down among racial lines?
    Poor eating choices are poor eating choices no matter the race.

  • Ashley


    February 13th, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    No control in eating need not mean no control in anything else.Some people and specially girls are generally a little too conscious about their eating habits so let’s us not make them seem like they have problems in everything, every aspect of their lives.

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