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Are Hispanic Women Changing?(1)

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -

Several media groups have reported investigation results surrounding specific health problems with comments like: "Eating disorders, previously considered a problem with Caucasian women, are becoming prevalent among Hispanics." The research and comments refer to the apparent rise in cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia among Latinas living in the United States.

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are disorders that appear in adolescents and in very young women who are obsessive about achieving or maintaining their physique through improper eating habits. An important part of the problem is having a distorted body image. They perceive themselves as fatter than they really are, and sometimes feel overweight, even when others view them as thin.

Lack of communication

Communication problems between these patients and their parents frequently exacerbate these disorders. The emotional conflicts associated with adolescent girls’ relationships with their parents are an important part of the problem. These are manifested by an exaggerated rejection of most foods. In some cases, provoked vomiting is used as a way to eliminate the "sin" committed by eating.

Of course, the obsession for a specific physique is related to the surrounding environment. Particularly, the strong presence of models inadvertently invites imitation. Several news articles associate the apparent increase of eating disorders among Latinas in the United States, to frequent appearances in the media of Hispanic celebrities like Jennifer López and Penélope Cruz (mostly on women’s magazine covers).

A universal problem

Like the cases of many artists that adorn TV screens and grace the pages and covers of popular magazines, “Latin beauty” garners worldwide admiration. This was proven a few days ago at the Miss Universe pageant, when once again, the two finalists represented Latin American countries. However, the problems of anorexia and bulimia are much more complex than a simple desire to imitate someone with a likeable figure.

The truth is, Hispanic women have never been immune to anorexia or bulimia, as stated in some of the published articles. The problem exists in all Latin American countries and in Spain. Like many other problems for minorities, eating disorders only became apparent when the minority’s population grew too large to be ignored.


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