West Texas A&M professor receives award for her research by the International Journal of Eating Disorders

Hannah Nelson, Entertainment Editor

photo by: Estaban Ponce

Dr. Mun Yee Kwan, an assistant professor of psychology at WTAMU, received the 2018 Best Paper by an Early Career Scholar for her article “Warning Labels on Fashion Images: Short-and longer-Term Effects on Body Dissatisfaction, Eating Disorder Symptoms, and Eating Behavior.” Her article discusses the ineffectiveness of warning labels on images that have gone through Photoshop, has been digitally altered, etc.  

So those countries say well if you advertise and you Photoshop or your airbrush or you digitally alter your images you have to put a warning label on the page and say something along that line that ‘warning this is not a realistic picture,’” said Kwan. “But you know there’s really not a lot of research that look into whether or not it is an effective policy.”

According to Kwan, there is not a lot of research that looks into whether the warning labels are an effective policy. She recalls about six prior research projects prior to hers over the topic. Out of the six, all but one of them state that the warning labels are not effective.

“The research that I did was sort of an extension of what they have done. I looked at the effectiveness of warning labels, but I tried to see it in a little bit of a long term, so I followed the participants for like 4 weeks. I also measured the reaction immediately after looking at the advertisement with the warning label,” said Kwan.

From her research Kwan found that the warning labels are not effective in the reasoning that those who are already vulnerable to an eating disorder see a warning label and tend to then eat even less. Also, in the four weeks that she followed participants, those exposed to the label started paying more attention to their appearance over time verses the participants who were not exposed to the warning label.

So not only is it ineffective, there’s a potential to cause harm to those who are already vulnerable to developing an eating disorder,” said Kwan.

Kwan graduated in 2017 with her Ph.D. from North Dakota State. She is a clinical psychologist and is currently working towards getting her license for the state of Texas. Her specialty is eating disorders and suicidal behaviors for both her clinical practice and her research. She became interested in eating disorders when she had a friend who struggled severely with an eating disorder.

To be honest, I really started with my interest in eating disorders because I had a friend who struggled quite severely with eating disorder, said Kwan.  And that really inspired me to want to help with this particular mental health concern.”

Kwan discusses eating disorders with her students in her Abnormal Psychology class. She discusses the prevalence of eating disorders and body image concerns, along with ineffective use of the warning labels. For junior social work major Mary Richardson, she has always been fascinated with the human mind and has enjoyed getting to learn from Kwan.  

“Dr. Kwan is an awesome instructor. She is extremely knowledgeable in her field and her being the recipient of the award is well earned,” said Richardson.

According to Director of Student Counseling Services Dayna Schertler, the Canyon community has not had an expert in Eating Disorders in many years. Dr. Kwan sees students in the Counseling Services office one day a week.

“Eating disorders are complicated and historically difficult to treat in that a team of professionals are needed to provide the best care. If a student is struggling with body image concerns or behaviors related to food our office as well as Student Medical Services is better equipped with Dr. Kwan assisting us when deciding how to best provide treatment or support,” said Schertler.

For Kwan, she believes it is important for everyone to know the prevalence of eating disorders and how common they are. She hopes that the spread of her article will help convey the right message to people.

If they’re struggling with eating disorders or body image concern it’s nothing to be shameful about and it’s very important that they seek the appropriate help that they need to recover,” said Kwan.