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Meanings of eating disorders discerned from family treatment and its implications for family education: the case of Shenzhen

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Contrary to the simplistic myth that eating disorders are the result of a tendency to adopt the Western beauty standard of being slim and thin, the symptoms have been found to symbolize the struggles of adolescents and their development in a rapidly changing society, and in particular, to illuminate the continual conflicts inherent in the afflicted adolescents, their families and the accepted societal values and norms. This paper reports the results of a qualitative study conducted in Shenzhen, the first Special Economic Zone in China that has experienced rapid economic growth and a significant population increase from 314 100 to 6 million in the past two decades. With an aim to identify the meanings of eating disorders at the individual and family levels, this study has employed a multiple-case study research design. Data have been collected through peer reviews on the family treatment sessions for 10 families, each with an adolescent daughter suffering from eating disorders, and with the sessions being videotaped with written consent from the families. Two themes evolved from the family narratives, namely the adolescents' attempt to master the uncontrollable life in facing the rapid transition of society, and their struggle between remaining young and growing up. Implications for family education in Shenzhen are discussed at the end of the paper.
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Keywords: Shenzhen; eating disorders; family education; family treatment; meanings

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-11-01

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