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Correlation Between Sorority Involvement and Eating Disordered Behavior

Grier Darnall

May 4, 2010




            Eating disordered behavior has been studied to a large extent in its prevalence among adolescent girls in particular.  Another aspect of this issue that has recently become more widely discussed is the relationship between the college Greek system and negative eating behaviors. Many people, opponents of the Greek college system in particular, believe that there is a strong correlation between membership in sororities and eating disordered behavior.  However, the truth behind this statement remains to be determined.  Recent studies have begun to focus on this phenomenon.  This paper will review these studies and draw a conclusion on the issue based on the information available.


What’s does the research say?

Study 1

            A study conducted primarily by Ashley Rolnik, delved into the question of the relation between sorority membership and eating disordered behavior.  The study was conducted on a group of 127 first year college students at U.S. Midwestern University, 68 of them participating in rush and 59 of them choosing to not participate.  The study in particular looked at eating disordered behavior in terms of self-objectification, which is the tendency to judge personal appearance in the light of how a person must appear to others.  Participants in the study took four online surveys at different points in time: before the rush process, a few days into the rush process, on bid night, and one month after being initiated into the sorority.  The study determined that in general among women participating in rush there was a higher self-objectification and body shame.  It further showed that new members in the sorority, that is the data collected one month after initiation, had further increased levels of body shame and eating disordered behavior.  The study concluded that there was a positive correlation between eating disordered behavior and participation in the college Greek system (Rolnik, Engeln-Maddox, Miller, 2010).

            This study is fairly reliable.  It established a control group-the group of first year college women who chose to not participate in the Greek sorority system.  It also gathered information throughout the entire mental process of Greek membership; that is, before, during, and after initiation.  However, the information gathered could be slightly tainted considering a simple online survey was used to determine whether there was eating disordered behavior in the sorority system at higher rates than in non-Greek college.  There was no direct observation and questions in surveys can and often times are slanted to elicit a certain answer.  Also, the study did not follow the Greek and non-Greek women any further than a month after initiation so there is potential data lost.  A more precise study could follow the women throughout their college and sorority careers.



Study 2

            A second study of 265 college women supports the same conclusion.  A sample size of 265 women at a college with sophomore rush examined the affects of the Greek system on eating disordered behavior.  The group was split into 3 categories-99 sorority women, 80 non-freshmen non-sorority women, and 86 freshmen that had not yet had the opportunity to join a sorority.  These women were measured using 3 subscales of the Eating Disorders Inventory-2, the Objectified Body Consciousness Scale, and a peer pressure measurement.  The study supported the hypothesis that women who were already in sororities as well as those who intended on joining scored higher on these tests regarding body image, social pressures, and disordered eating (Basow, Foran, Bookwala, 2007).

            This study was well done and took into account multiple age groups of sorority and non-sorority women.  There was a control group of non-sorority women in two age groups and the evaluations were reliable as they are reputable .  The fact that multiple tests were used further affirms the results of this study.

Study 3

            In another study of 200 women, 100 sorority and 100 non-sorority, these same results were further backed.  These women were surveyed for the first three years of college to check for depression, disordered eating, self-esteem, and body mass index (BMI).  The results found that there was no difference between the groups of women intending to join a sorority and not intending to join a sorority before the recruitment process had begun.  However, the research concluded that by time 3, the third year, sorority women had a considerably higher Eating Disorder Inventory and Drive for Thinness, although self-esteem, depression, and BMI did not differ between the sorority and nonsorority women (Allison, Park, 2004).

            This study is also reliable because there is a definitive control group that is followed throughout the first three years of college so the subjects are always the same.  Although the methods for testing seem very objective, the results are clear and the fact that they are supported throughout three years of college consistently further affirms them.

 Study 4

            Another study observed 627 college women belonging to sororities.  It used Body Mass Index Silhouettes and the Eating Disorder Inventory to determine is sorority women were more at risk for disordered women than other subsets of adolescent women.  The findings were that the sorority women were in general more dissatisfied with their bodies and had a greater fear of becoming fat than women in previous studies.  However, it also found that although the bulimia subscores were higher for this group of sorority women than for nonsorority women in previous studies, the differences were not significant (Schulken, Pinciaro, Sawyer, Jensen, Hoban, 1997).

            Although this study provides excellent information on a large population of sorority members, there is no control group defined within the study.  Instead of establishing a control group of college non-sorority women in the same study, this study relies on previous studies of non-sorority women to act as the control.  This study has valuable information but the design could be improved in that a control group within the study could be established.


How reliable in general is the information available today?

            Although there were a few minor things to be improved upon in the setup of many of the studies, the results and findings are still reliable.  That is, it has been established to some extent that there is a relationship between membership and participation in the Greek system at college and the prevalence of eating disordered behavior and the precursors to eating disordered behavior.  As there are not many studies available for reference, though, it can be concluded that an enormous amount of research needs yet to be done in order to be able to reach a sound conclusion.  Further research should include studies with well-established control groups and should follow the cohorts throughout their sorority membership.


Can any conclusions be drawn?

            The quantity of research yet to be done makes it hard to draw any distinctive conclusions.  The studies that are available today hint that there is a positive correlation between sorority membership and eating disordered behavior as well as precursors to eating disordered behavior.  Further research is required to reach a definitive conclusion.


What are the most important issues?

            The most important questions to consider in conducting this research is if sororities attract women with a higher propensity for eating disordered behavior or if sororities thrust eating disordered behavior on young women.  Another important question is  what sort of factors about sorority membership elicits behavior cohesive to eating disordered behavior.  Once the correlation has been established and further supported, these are the questions that need to be asked and answered in order to bring about positive change.


What sorts of solutions are out there?

            Right now, Tri Delta sorority has adopted a new signature program called the Reflections Program.  This is a two-day intervention program that focuses on establishing positive body image rather than eating disorders and is peer-led.  It was developed by Dr. Carolyn Becker at Trinity University.  Along with Tri Delta, many other sororities are beginning to follow suit.  Although this is not a solution in itself, it does show that the Greek sorority system is taking steps in the right direction in promoting healthy body image and discouraging eating disordered behavior. (DELTA DELTA DELTA Fraternity, 2009).




Works Cited

Allison, Kelly, and Crystal Park.  “A prospective study of disordered eating in sorority and nonsorority women.”  International Journal of Eating Disorders 35.3 (2004): 354-358.  Wiley Periodicals, 2010.

Basow, Susan, Kelly Foran, and Jamil Bookwala.  “Body Objectification, Social Pressure, and Disordered Eating in College Women: The Role of Sorority Membership.”  Psychology of Women Quarterly 31.4 (2007): 394-400.  American Psychological Association, 2010.

Rolnik, Ashley Marie, Renee Engeln-Maddox, and Steven Miller.  “Here’s Looking at You: Self-Objectification, Body Image Disturbance, and Sorority Rush.”  Sex Roles (2010).  Springer Netherlands, 2010.

Schulken, Ellen, Paul Pinciaro, Robin Sawyer, JoAnne Jensen, and Mary Hoban.  “Sorority Women’s Body Size Perceptions and Their Weight-Related Attitudes and Behaviors.”  Journal of American College Health 46.2 (1997): 69-74.  Heraldref Publications, 2007.  April 20, 2010.

“Tri Delta Signature Programs.”  DELTA DELTA DELTA Fraternity (2009).  April 27, 2010.  <>.




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