Study finds sorority pledges more likely to develop eating disorders

GVL/Lindsey Waggoner
Photo illustration

Sorority Eating disorders

GVL/Lindsey Waggoner Photo illustration Sorority Eating disorders

Samantha Butcher

College women who participate in a sorority rush are more likely to have dangerous eating behaviors and body image issues than women who do not rush, according to a recent study published by a student at Northwestern University.

The Northwestern study, part of Ashley Marie Rolnik’s senior honors thesis, surveyed 127 first-year college women between 17-20 years old at an unspecified Midwestern university. Its goal was to study the link between objectification and body dissatisfaction outside of a laboratory setting, researchers said.

At the end of the study, participants who completed the rush process and pledged a sorority showed an increase in body shame and self-objectification. Researchers say this suggests “sorority membership may exacerbate pre-existing, problematic attitudes and behaviors.”

“The interventions aimed at reducing sorority women’s focus on physical appearance may hold a promise as one of the many routes to addressing body image disturbance and eating disorders among sorority members,” researchers concluded. “As sororities are very powerful at influencing the norms and ideals of their members, a move away from a focus on appearance and towards a set of norms that encourages healthy eating habits and more positive approaches to body image has real potential.”

The Northwestern study supports other research that suggests a link between self-objectification, body image issues and eating disorders.

In fall 2009, 645 women were members of sororities at Grand Valley State University. Five percent of the student population are members of a fraternity or sorority.

Prevalence rates for eating disorders on campus are not available, but almost 10 million women and one million men in the U.S. suffer from eating disorders. According to the Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, 25 percent of college-aged women engage in binging and purging as a weight-management technique.

“We can see eating disorders become a problem when they’re part of the accepted cultural norm,” said Brian Bossick, a GVSU counselor. “When a couple of people in a group develop an eating disorder or other problem, that can be carried through the group. There’s definitely potential for that in a sorority setting.”

Allie Karagozian, a GVSU sorority member, said she disagrees with the study.

“I don’t think that being Greek has anything to do with having an eating disorder,” she said. “Unfortunately, the Greek community gets stereotyped for being obsessed with body image and weight. I think that a majority of college students are focused on looking good, but it’s important for everyone to know that being a healthy individual is the best way to not only look good but feel good.”

Bossick, however, said there are several factors that make college-aged women especially susceptible to eating disorders, some of which are present in a sorority setting.

“Societal pressure is a big part and so is internalization of an image that society portrays,” he said.

Students who suffer from an eating disorder can contact the Counseling Center for free and confidential counseling, as well as the Women’s Center. A list of off-campus resources is available on the Women’s Center Web site:

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