The prevalence of body dysmorphic disorder among South African university students

Antonia Dlagnikova, Rudolph Leon van Niekerk


Background. The prevalence of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) among South African students is explored in this article. BDD is regarded as an obsessive-compulsive-related disorder characterised by a preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance and expressed in repetitive behaviours or mental acts as a response to the appearance concerns, causing clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning. 

Objectives. To determine the prevalence of BDD among undergraduate students (N=395) at an inner-city university. 

Methods. Proportionate stratified random cluster sampling was used to select the sample. The students completed a demographics survey and the Body Image Disturbance Questionnaire. 

Results and conclusion. An overall prevalence rate of 5.1% was found in this study, which is similar to prevalence rates reported in existing literature among student populations. No clinically significant differences in the severity of the BDD were found on the demographic variables of gender, race or sexual orientation. However, students differed significantly in their experience of the severity of the disorder in terms of age, in that students over the age of 21 reported higher severity levels than students under the age of 21. Although the prevalence of the disorder compares with that in other countries, its severity seems to increase with age among South African students.


Body dysmorphic disorder; somatoform disorders; prevalence

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Submitted: 31 July 2014
Published: 01 August 2015

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)