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Perceptions about adolescent body image and eating behaviour

A research report submitted to the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Medicine in the branch of Psychiatry
Johannesburg, 2017 / Introduction. Eating disorders are an important group of mental illnesses in Psychiatry.
The aetiology is multifactorial, developing from distorted beliefs around body image and shape, with resultant abnormal eating behaviours. This study explores the views and perceptions of a group of university students regarding their peers’ body image and shape and eating behaviours, which they experienced (at the time) during their senior high school years. The majority of these students attended high schools in Johannesburg.
Method. This was an explorative, qualitative study using qualitative methods. A sample of 153 participants was voluntarily recruited from students in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand. A manually distributed anonymous questionnaire was used, with questions about their high school peers’ personality traits, early and late childhood experiences, eating behaviour, and the last three years of high school environment. Questions in each section were deconstructed and categorised into subthemes. Subthemes were further deconstructed into replicated ideas. These subthemes and ideas were presented in hierarchical tables. Findings in this study were compared with the literature.
Results. The most commonly described subtheme of participants’ perceptions of high school peers’ personality traits was “poor self-confidence”. The most replicated subthemes of views on peers’ childhood experiences were “personal conflict with members of the family”, “a disruptive home environment” and “mother’s attitude”. In terms of peers’ eating behaviour, a subtheme on “body shapes” included “fat”, “skinny” and “fit” and “muscular” bodies. In terms of the high school environment, the subtheme
of “bullying and peer discrimination” was regarded as important, while “the impact of media” was regarded as extremely important. Fifty percent of participants viewed body image to be important for social status. There were mixed views on whether specific programmes should be introduced to identify pupils at risk.
Conclusion. Although bullying and peer pressure have been described as contributing factors in the development of eating behaviour problems in high school learners, as perceived by a group of university students, the most prominent potential contributing factor considered was the media, specifically social media. This finding could contribute to further research looking at the role of social media, not only its relationship in the potential development of a Psychiatric Illness, but possibly, too, its role in the educational and rehabilitation process. / MT2017
Date January 2017
CreatorsLaxton, Kim
Source SetsSouth African National ETD Portal
Detected LanguageEnglish

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