Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Educational Psychology


Marian Fish


Georgiana Shick Tryon

Committee Members

Georgiana Shick Tryon

Erin Ax

Jay Verkuilen

Subject Categories

Psychology | School Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Eating disorders, family systems, Modern Orthodox Jewish adolescents, enmeshment, parent concern with thinness, EAT-26


Eating Disorders (EDs) are characterized by maladaptive attitudes, beliefs, and/or behaviors related to eating. Maladaptive behaviors can include restrictive eating, bingeing, purging, excessive exercising, and use of diuretics. Research has identified several characteristics within individuals that can be considered risk factors for the development of EDs including perfectionism, low self-esteem, elevated BMIs, affluence, and stressful life events. Several of these characteristics are very common in the Modern Orthodox Jewish community. Modern Orthodox Jewish female adolescents are a very unique and at-risk population in society. This population has a prevalence of EDs that is 50% higher than the general population (Baruchin, 1998). Furthermore, research has shown that Jewish adolescents have slightly higher BMIs and higher rates of dieting and eating-disordered beliefs than their non-Jewish counterparts (Pinhas et al., 2008). Family systems theorists characterize EDs as developing in families with characteristics that are incompatible with the development of autonomy and with communication patterns in which the child with an ED preserves homeostasis in the family by preventing interpersonal problems from directly emerging by providing a single problem to focus on (Wechselblatt et al., 2000). Modern Orthodox Jewish families are systemically and culturally “unique”. There are many distinct characteristics of Modern Orthodox families that may contribute to the higher v prevalence of EDs in this community, including family enmeshment, rigidity, and overprotectiveness. In addition, little research has been conducted on the influence of religion and the encompassing culture on EDs. Most of the research suggests a relationship between religiosity and the development and maintenance of EDs (Marsden, Karagianni, & Morgan, 2007; Smith, Richards, & Maglio, 2004). As seen in prior studies reviewed above, the Modern Orthodox Jewish Community may be at higher risk for ED because their religion, culture, and family systems have been associated with risk factors that may lead to an ED. The current study aimed to explore the relationship of family and cultural variables as they relate to EDs in Modern Orthodox Jewish adolescents to aid in the development of primary interventions and treatment programs. A family systems model was used to better understand EDs in Modern Orthodox Jewish adolescents. Based on correlational analyses, several significant findings emerged. Higher levels of family dysfunction, especially poor communication and low family satisfaction, higher levels of parents’ concern with thinness, and low self-esteem were associated with elevated levels of disordered eating and the overall level of risk factors for EDs. Religiosity was not significantly associated with levels of disordered eating or the overall risk factors of EDs. Based on multiple regression analyses, several significant findings emerged as well. Parents’ concern with thinness, family enmeshment, and low self-esteem were significant predictors of EDs in Modern Orthodox Jewish adolescents. Religiosity was not. In addition, self-perceptions of parents’ concern with thinness was significantly higher in Modern Orthodox Jewish adolescents than the general population.