Date of Award:

2000

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

David M. Stein

Abstract

The current study examined whether elevations on four variables (drive for thinness, depressed mood, maladaptive cognitions, and ineffectiveness) were related to increased risk of developing an eating disorder over a 4-year prospective interval. Subjects (N = 191) were female undergraduates who were assessed with the Anorexia-Bulimia Inventory (ABI), Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI), and a structured clinical interview.

Results indicated that individuals with elevated scores on each of the four variables at the initial assessment did not show higher absolute eating disorder incidence rates over the 4-year interval. However, initial scores on the four variables together lll explained approximately 13% of both anorexia and bulimia symptom severity variance at the final assessment. Changes over time in the four variables were more highly related to later symptom severity, explaining 34% of the variance in anorexic severity and 16% in bulimic severity.

Thus, the findings suggest that initial scores, and especially changes in scores, on the four variables were related to severity of symptoms 4 years later. However, a large proportion of the variance in eating disorder severity remained unexplained. Examination of the role of each risk variable individually revealed that initial elevations on maladaptive cognitions and drive for thinness subscales were related to higher anorexic symptom severity at the later assessment. Of interest was the absence of significant relationships between early scores on maladaptive cognitions and drive for thinness and subsequent bulimic symptoms, suggesting that anorexia and bulimia may have somewhat different risk pathways.

The pretest scores on the depressed mood and ineffectiveness subscales were not significantly correlated with symptom severity at the later assessment, and were not identified by the regression analyses as parsimonious or efficient predictors of eating disorder symptoms. This finding suggests that perhaps early difficulties with depression and low self-esteem are less related to onset of later eating disorders than previously believed.

Finally, the overall 4-year incidence rate of .6% found in the current study suggests that as women move through their college years, they are departing the developmental period of high risk for onset of eating disorders, and thus, new cases become increasingly rare.

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