Upward appearance comparison and the development of eating pathology in college women

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Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors are common among college women, yet only a subset of this population develops clinically significant disordered eating symptoms during college. Appearance-based social comparisons, particularly those made to others with “better” bodies (i.e., upward appearance comparisons), have demonstrated concurrent relationships with body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Little is known about the value of these comparisons for predicting the development of eating pathology, however.


The present study examined the predictive value of upward appearance comparisons, as well as established risk factors (e.g., body dissatisfaction, negative affect), for the onset of clinically significant eating pathology over one college semester. College women (N = 454) completed validated self-report measures at the beginning of one semester, and again nine weeks later.


Women who were newly above the clinical threshold for eating pathology at follow-up (n = 31) exhibited stronger baseline tendencies toward upward appearance comparisons than women who were below the threshold at both time points. In contrast, women who were already above the clinical threshold at baseline scored higher on established risk factors.


These findings suggest that the extent of upward appearance comparison may be useful for identifying college women at particular risk for developing clinically significant disordered eating symptoms. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2014; 47:467–470)

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