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Eating disorder prevalence among female inmates receiving mental health services

25 July 2005


The current study examines the prevalence of eating disorders among a cross-sectional sample of women in prison in the United States. Participants were 124 female inmates receiving mental health services at a women's prison in Oregon. Data were collected in groups between April 4, 2005, and May 6,2005, and participation was voluntary. The self-report measures used included a demographic questionnaire developed for this study, the Eating Disorder Inventory-3 (D. M. Gamer, 2004b), and the Eating Disorder Inventory-3 Symptom Checklist (D. M. Gamer, 2004a). One sample t-tests were used to compare inmate scores on the Eating Disorder Inventory-3 eating disorder risk scales to scores from a non-clinical standardization sample; the mean score for participants was significantly higher (p < .01) for all 3 risk scales. Additionally, participant reports of eating disorder symptoms were compared to previously reported prevalence levels for community samples. When the sample point prevalence of 2.4% for current bulimia nervosa criteria was compared to the 1 % point prevalence of bulimia nervosa in the general population (R. W. Hoek, 2002) using a chi-square goodness of fit analysis, there was no significant difference (p > .05). Chi-square goodness of fit analysis was also used to compare the 40% current prevalence of bulimic symptoms within the current sample to the 19% prevalence of bulimic symptoms in the community (R. W. Hoek, 2002); the prevalence of bulimic symptoms was significantly higher (p = .000) for the current sample. Using the same analysis, lifetime prevalence of key criteria for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa for the current sample were compared to the lifetime prevalence of each disorder as reported in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition, text revision (American Psychiatric Association, 2000); for both disorders the lifetime prevalence of key criteria was significantly higher (p = .000) than the lifetime prevalence reported for the general population. The results support the hypothesis that women in prison may experience significantly more eating disorder pathology than their community counterparts. More research is needed to determine if the current results are an artifact of recruiting subjects from a mental health population.


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