Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environmental and Occupational Health

First Committee Member

Timothy Bungum

Second Committee Member

Mark Buttner

Third Committee Member

Chris Cochran

Fourth Committee Member

Jennifer Pharr

Fifth Committee Member

Cortney Warren

Number of Pages




Incarceration and substance abuse are two of the largest public health issues in America. While the U.S. makes up only 5% of the world’s population, it accounts for 25% of its prisoners. Incarceration affects more than 2.2 million individuals who will eventually return to their families and communities with ongoing family, social and health issues. Women in prison are a particularly vulnerable and underserved population, generally of low education and socio-economic status and although they account for a small percent of the prison population, many are mothers of young children who are likely to become incarcerated themselves. Substance abuse is prevalent (80%) among imprisoned women, particularly stimulants (e.g. methamphetamine, cocaine, etc.) due to their appealing side effects including increased energy and weight loss. Newly abstinent from these drugs, metabolic activity and appetite suppression are removed and women tend to gain significant weight. Failure to address physical health, body dissatisfaction, eating pathologies and weight concerns can result in co-morbid and often life-threatening eating disorders and other compensatory behaviors (laxative use, vomiting or extreme caloric restriction). While several public health approaches address the more common mental health issues found in prisons such as anger, depression and domestic violence, few address behavioral health associated with weight concerns, body image, obesity and eating pathologies. Left untreated, these may serve as triggers for relapse. This study observed differences in beliefs and attitudes about body image, eating and weight between incarcerated females and a non-incarcerated community sample. Results demonstrated a significantly (p > 0.05) higher rate of severe eating pathologies and binge eating among incarcerated females and greater body dissatisfaction and preoccupation with body shape. Additionally, unhealthy dieting practices and illicit drug use for weight loss was found to be significantly higher in prisoners. Gender-responsive programs addressing these issues and environmental approaches to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors are warranted in this population.


corrections; food; inmate; nevada; nutrition; overweight


Public Health Education and Promotion | Science and Mathematics Education | Social and Behavioral Sciences

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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