Abnormal eating attitudes and weight-loss behaviour of adolescent girls attending a “traditional” Jewish high school in Johannesburg, South Africa
CITATION: Visser, J., et al. 2014. Abnormal eating attitudes and weight-loss behaviour of adolescent girls attending a “traditional” Jewish high school in Johannesburg, South Africa. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 27(4):208-216.
The original publication is available at http://www.sajcn.co.za
Objectives: This study aimed to determine the prevalence of abnormal eating attitudes and weight-loss behaviour in female Jewish adolescents. Teachers’ awareness of these factors and their attitudes towards a school programme to address these were also investigated. Design: A cross-sectional study was conducted. Subjects and setting: Female learners in grades 8-11 (n = 220), attending a “traditional” Jewish high school in Johannesburg were included. Teachers (n = 38) at the relevant school were also recruited. Outcome measures: A questionnaire consisting of the 26-item version of the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) and a modified section of the USA Youth Risk Behavior Survey was completed by learners. Teachers completed a questionnaire designed by the researchers. Results: Twenty per cent of the learners (n = 43) achieved EAT-26 scores ≥ 20, suggestive of a possible eating disorder, while 30.2% (n = 65) required clinical evaluation for a potential eating disorder. Thirty-three per cent (n = 72) of the adolescent girls considered themselves to be overweight, while 64% (n = 139) were trying to lose weight at the time of the study. 19.1% (n = 42) had engaged in one or more extreme methods of weight loss in the past 12 months. Most teachers (81.6%, n = 29) underestimated the proportion of adolescent girls requiring clinical evaluation and 71.1% (n = 27) underestimated the extent of current weight-loss attempts. Almost all of the teachers (97.3%, n = 37) recognised the need to address disordered eating attitudes. However, only 34.2% of the teachers (n = 13) viewed the school as the appropriate place in which to do this, and were also prepared to participate in the programme and sacrifice class time. Conclusion: To date, no published South African literature documents the presence of abnormal eating attitudes in Jewish adolescent females in South Africa. The prevalence fell within the upper end of rates reported in studies on adolescent girls in South Africa and abroad. Teachers who participated in this study were not fully aware of the extent to which eating-related issues affected female learners. A qualitative exploration thereof could yield valuable insights.