The Body Shape Questionnaire – Keeping Eating Disorders on the Radar

The body shape questionnaire (BSQ) is a tool used to evaluate behavior and mindset of people who may be prone to eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. It was first introduced in 1986 by P.J. Cooper, M.J. Taylor, Z. Cooper and C.G. Fairburn in an article appearing in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Many psychologists, psychiatrists and eating disorder specialists have found the BSQ to be highly effective in measuring an individual’s level of weight and shape concern, particularly when it is used in conjunction with other measures of body satisfaction and body image.

Typically consisting of 34 questions that receive a rating from 1 to 6, the body shape questionnaire is also available in shorter versions that only feature 16 key questions. The BSQ explores patients’ psyches with queries such as: “Has feeling bored made you brood about your shape?” and “Has being with thin women made you feel self conscious about your shape?” While seemingly innocuous, the answers to these questions can be quite telling when there is concern regarding a potential eating disorder. Other questions that probe a little deeper include: “Has eating even a small amount of food made you feel fat?” and “Has thinking about your shape interfered with your ability to concentrate (e.g. while watching television, reading, listening to conversations)?”

While these initial questions may indicate a potential eating disorder, they do not necessarily point toward an individual who is a victim of one. Many of the early questions in the BSQ could simply be reflective of normal or slightly hyper sensitivities to body image. However, there are several questions that are blatant in their indication of an eating disorder or substantial psychosis. Questions such as “Have you vomited in order to feel thinner?” and “Have you taken laxatives in order to feel thinner?” are the crux of the Body Satisfaction Questionnaire. These are the questions that, in all actuality, could potentially save a life.

Perhaps if educators and those who work with young people were educated in the symptoms of eating disorders and even given access to and training in the BSQ, the instances of anexoria nervosa and bulimia nervosa would decline. As an evaluation tool, the BSQ is a positive first step in diagnosing eating disorders or in alerting doctors of an individual’s potential for an eating disorder.

Were this tool placed in the right hands, young people who are at risk of having an eating disorder could possibly be identified early on, thus, limiting the long term damage that is often incurred. At the very least, educators and those working with young people could be given an abbreviated version of the BSQ as well as intensive training in evaluating behavior and identifying symptoms or a potential for eating disorders. When there is a team atmosphere and professionals are working together to combat eating disorders, great strides can be made in identifying patients early. With the Body Satisfaction Questionnaire as a key component, lives can be saved.