Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Detection of Eating Disorders Among Young Women: Implications for Development Communication

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Srinivas Melkote (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Lara Lengel (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Clayton Rosati (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Alfred DeMaris (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Michael Brooks (Other)


Eating disordered behavior is a crucial health issue that has been studied by several researchers over the years and continues to be addressed by many. Extreme concern for body image is acknowledged as one of the foundations for eating disorders and thinness ideal. Therefore, it becomes imperative to understand how young adults will react to universal messages related to body image and body dissatisfaction issues displayed in various forms of media. In this study, an important objective is to examine the prevalence of body dissatisfaction among young adult users of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Yet another objective is to examine if body dissatisfaction among these users is associated with disordered eating behaviors. The present study, using the Theory of Planned Behavior, investigated the socio-cultural factors that may influence self-reported disordered eating behavior in young adults, especially females. To address these objectives, quantitative data were collected using a self-administered online survey.

The data analysis found that more the number of hours spent on social media sites, higher is the body dissatisfaction among young adults. The data also show that body dissatisfaction is predicted by low levels of self-esteem, and high level of internalization of thinness ideal. When comparing the association of body dissatisfaction with eating disorders, it was found that among young adult female users of social media, body dissatisfaction levels are positively associated with eating disorder behaviors. When TPB variables were employed to screen for intentions to engage in strict dietary behavior as well as intention to engage anorexic and bulimic behavior, it is found that attitude, subjective norms and peer norms relating to food and thinness, and perceived behavioral control are statistically significant. Furthermore, when intention to perform the desired behavior, along with all other variables, namely attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control were regressed to predict self-reported disordered eating behaviors, the model was significant with very high R2 value.

The findings will be crucial to the future health communication campaigns for recognizing the importance of intentions and TPB variables to predict self-reported disordered eating behavior. Moreover, the larger aim of the study is to broaden development communication (devcom) as a field of study by focusing on how it could deal with building the capacity of people to live meaningful, expressive lives. The empirically supported findings of this study clearly showcase how devcom could help foster an empowered community of social media users with a countervailing voice to deal with the problem inhibiting their capacities and capabilities due to the universal media and societal messages of the thinness ideal.