Exploring Cultural Differences in Eating Disorders

Meredith Woermke on August 07, 2012

On Thursday August 2, the 2012 Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Week Planning Committee (PEDAW) held a lunchtime event called “Exploring Cultural Differences in Eating Disorders”. A panel of three expert speakers, including a pediatrician, a psychologist and a family therapist, shared their experiences working with families from diverse cultural backgrounds in BC. The event was very well attended with people joining in by video conference and telephone from around the province. While the event focused on exploring cultural differences in eating disorders, many of the themes raised are also relevant to consider for other mental health challenges as well. In particular, the themes around family dynamics, communication, and acculturation.

One of the main themes of the event that stood out for me was the importance of acknowledging that there can be similarities and differences in experiences of eating disorders within and between cultures, and even within families. All three speakers spoke of the importance of understanding how each family member understands the eating disorder, as well as understanding the role that acculturation, cultural identity, and cultural values can play in a child or youth’s recovery. Sometimes a child can feel trapped between two different cultures or their understandings, norms, or values may conflict with those of their family. The speakers encouraged health professionals to be curious about what is going on and to really look into the complexities that exist around family dynamics, communication barriers, and diversity within all families, irrespective of cultural background.

Another theme that was raised is that sometimes parents are unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and can find it challenging to understand the illness and the role they can play during recovery. This unfamiliarity with signs and symptoms is also highlighted in the cross-cultural mental health literacy video that will soon be released. In the video, Sandeep and her father share the challenges they faced when they first moved to Canada. When Sandeep developed an eating disorder, her family didn’t really understand what was happening or how to help her.

I have touched on just a few of the many themes that were raised at the PEDAW event. If you attended the event, please feel free to share any other take away themes from the presentations that you found interesting. If you missed the event, a recording will soon be available from this website. With the upcoming launch of the cross-cultural mental health literacy video we hope to be having many more conversations around culture, mental health, and how we can all better support the mental health of culturally diverse families within our province! 


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BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

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British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

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