By Rocia Avila, LCSW

Latino/a/x like the general population are impacted by mental illness. Latino/a/x suffer from eating disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health illnesses, however, they are not treated at the same rate nor do they seek treatment at the same rate. Talking about mental health in the Latino community can be rare and stigmatized which can be a barrier to seeking treatment.

Latino/a/x also face similar issues with regard to body image issues or distress. In general body image concerns have historically been connected to white women wanting to attain a thin body. In society and the media the concept of the thin ideal (or the desire to attain thinness) continues to be a focus and a skewed perception, that only thin, equals beauty. According to one large study in the United States, 45.5% of latinos and 56.1% of latinas experience body shape concerns.1 Latinas experience the same societal pressure regarding western based beauty standards however Latinas often have to contend with other issues such as acculturation and acculturative stress, discrimination, grief if they have migrated from their country of origin, migration journey, lack of resources and support, all the while having to battle mental health and body image issues. One study indicated that Latino males also experienced body image issues specific to muscularity and wanting to attain more muscle mass and reported increased distress when comparing themselves to white or european males who genetically and biologically may have larger/muscular bodies.2 The desire to attain a more muscular body can lead to eating disorders such as orthorexia including restrictive behaviors. 

There are some Latino/a/x who migrated here or are children of immigrants who had to deal with a “migration journey” one in which likely involved disordered eating patterns (1 meal/day) perhaps dealt with food insecurity (limited food access) along with stress about how to obtain the next meal. These stressors sometimes continue for many years even after arrival and the trauma from the journey can lead to trauma responses. Disordered eating patterns can go hand in hand with esteem and body image issues which is likely to increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. 

In summary Latino/a/x face a multitude of issues that lead to mental health issues and some specific issues that can lead to developing body image distress which can increase the risk for developing an eating disorder.