Network Centrality, Perfectionism and Eating Disorders Among Nutrition Majors

Madeline Jane McDonough



Disordered eating and body dissatisfaction are becoming increasingly prevalent on today’s college campuses.  Students surveyed at a university over the course of thirteen years revealed a 17.1% increase for men and 9.2% increase for women in eating disorder rates (White, 2011).  Furthermore, those students who choose to pursue degrees in nutrition are at an additional risk of developing an eating disorder (Houston, 2008). Perhaps this is due to the fact that these students are hyper-aware of “correct” eating behaviors and thus attempt to meet the standards of their future profession.  Substantial research supports the fact that increased levels of perfectionism are found in those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (Stairs, 2011).  Moreover, in the college setting especially, peers greatly influence one another.  Individuals who surround themselves with peers that place value on thinness are at a heightened risk for developing abnormal eating behaviors (Hutchinson, 2007).  Nutrition students are surrounded by peers taking similar courses, which may create added pressure to attain thin ideals that reinforce abnormal eating patterns.  This study aims to determine whether or not there is a relationship between perfectionism, disordered eating, and network centrality among a sample of nutrition majors.  99 undergraduate nutrition students at a midsized public university participated.  They had an average age of 20.44 years.  The vast majority reported being white/Caucasian (91.0%); in addition, students recorded came from middle to upper class backgrounds with 43.6% reporting an annual family income of $100,000 or greater.  The average GPA of the participants on a four-point scale was 3.38.  The data were collected through a social network analysis, which provided a graphic representation of the relational connections between nutrition students’ social circles.


Keywords: Nutrition, Eating Disorders, Perfectionism

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