Ethnic and American Identity as Correlates of Eating Pathology in College Women
According to popular racial and cultural formation theories, ethnic identity is defined as the process of identifying with the culture and practices one's ethnic group while American identity is the process of identifying with the mainstream/majority culture and practices of the United States. A small body of research suggests that ethnic identity and American identity are positively associated with mental health in ethnic minority and European American individuals, respectively. Furthermore, a growing body of research suggests that ethnic identity is associated with diminished eating pathology in minority women. However, the protective effects of ethnic identity against eating pathology are unexplored in European American women. In addition, the relationship between American identity and eating pathology is unexplored in all ethnic groups. To expand our understanding of these constructs, this study examined the relationships between ethnic identity, American identity, thin-ideal internalization and eating pathology in 1018 college women who self-identified as European American, African American, Asian American or Latina. Results indicated that ethnic identity moderated the relationship between thin-ideal internalization and eating pathology for African Americans and Asian Americans (but not for European Americans or Latinas), such that the relationship was weaker for women with strong ethnic identity. In contrast, American identity did not predict or moderate eating pathology. Nevertheless, American identity was a significant positive correlate with eating pathology and/or thin-ideal internalization in all ethnic groups. Overall, these findings suggest that ethnic identity serves as a protective factor against eating pathology, while American identity may be a factor of risk; and that ethnic identity and American identity are related but distinct constructs. Future directions include replication of this study in other populations, as well as an exploration of ethnic identity-geared clinical interventions for eating pathology.