A Cross Comparative Study to Examine Beliefs and Attitudes regarding Food and Eating between Food and Nutrition and Social Work Students

Colleen McMillan, Janet Madill


Background: Little is known regarding attitudes and beliefs toward eating disorders by students interested in working with this population. This study aims to understand similarities and differences between food and nutrition and social work students regarding their attitudes and beliefs toward food and eating, and how these findings may inform curriculum development prior to graduation as well as practice in the field.

Methods and Findings: Using a mixed-method approach, 14 social work (SW) and26 food and nutrition (FN) students completed the Eating Disorders Attitudes Questionnaire (EAT-26) and participated in focus groups. After viewing 33 photographs of 11 different foods displayed as small, normal, and large portions according to Canada’s Food Guide, students categorized portions followed by their rationale. Different symptoms of disordered eating emerged; choices by FN students were informed by clinical knowledge and internal tension, whereas choices by SW students were based on external influences including industry, family, and cultural expectations. Language was noticeably different; FN students used clinical language creating distance between themselves and the photos, versus SW students who spoke from a personal and affective standpoint.

Conclusions: Understanding attitudes and beliefs concerning food and eating by students planning to work with eating disorder clients raises questions of possible professional competencies and curriculum development prior to entering this practice area.


Interprofessional practice; Nutrition; Social work; Curriculum; Eating disorders

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22230/jripe.2017v6n2a238