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Friday April 24, 11:55 pm Eastern Time

Anorexia's link to Western culture questioned

BOSTON, April 22 (Reuters) - A review of hospital records is challenging the conventional wisdom that anorexia nervosa, a sometimes fatal eating disorder, is caused by the preoccupation with thinness in Western culture.

The disease, which killed singer Karen Carpenter, prompts sufferers to starve themselves, or to use vomiting or laxatives, in an effort to become increasingly thin. Victims develop a false perception of their bodies, where they cannot see that they have literally become just skin and bones.

Anorexia nervosa is ``considered to be a Western-culture-bound syndrome occurring mainly in young, white women,'' the research group led by Dr. Hans Wijbrand Hoek of The Hague Psychiatric Institute in the Netherlands wrote in a letter in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine. ``It is thought to be very rare outside the Western world and in black women in industrialized countries.''

The researchers examined the records of 44,192 people admitted to Curacao General Hospital between 1987 and 1989. They said that they were expecting to find few, if any, cases of anorexia on the Caribbean island, ``where overweight is socially acceptable.''

They found six cases, a rate that ``is within the range of rates reported in Western countries.''

Hoek's team said the six women were all born and living on Curacao. Five were Creole and the other was of Portuguese origin, the researchers said.

``Our finding challenges the ideas that sociocultural pressure to diet is a crucial factor in the causation of anorexia nervosa and that it occurs only in Western societies,'' the researchers said.