Considering J.Lo and Ugly Betty: A Qualitative Examination of Risk Factors and Prevention Targets for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Latina Women


Objectives: Latina women are vulnerable to both eating disorders and obesity, particularly during the college years. This qualitative study sought to identify issues relevant to these topics, in order to inform the development of prevention programs for this population. Design: Focus groups were conducted to examine risk for eating disorders and obesity from the perspective of Latina women. Participants included 27 university students who identified as Latina and met in groups of three to six to discuss topics related to risk for developing eating disorders and obesity. Data were examined qualitatively by the research team using Atlas.ti software. Results: Four overarching themes emerged: (1) cultural and media messages; (2) familial influences on weight, eating, and body image; (3) college transitions and healthy habits; and (4) peer and male influence. Participants noted the conflict between the American thin ideal and the curvier body shape traditionally valued by Latina cultures; this tension was reflected by a lack of consistently positive female Latina role models in the media. Familial messages played an important role in the development of relationships with food and body. Participants reported difficulty transitioning from the structure of eating at home to independence in college. Finally, peer groups greatly influenced what participants deemed normal with regard to food and appearance, even when these contradicted messages from family. Conclusion: Results from this study have implications for the prevention of both eating disorders and obesity in Latina college women and highlight the influence of culture on these issues.