Are Eating Disorders on the Rise?
The number of eating disorders in the United States is on the rise, with more-and-more girls and boys, and men and women struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder than ever before. However, despite the increasing number of eating disordered individuals, this complex mental illness is frequently misunderstood and those who suffer fail to receive proper care more often than not. Clinicians and therapists are not only seeing a growing number of persons with eating disorders but have noted that many of those being diagnosed are much younger than in the past. One researcher survey suggests that over 80% of girls aged ten years old fear appearing, becoming or being perceived as fat.
Since the 1930s, the number of eating disorder cases has steadily climbed and in a mere five years (from the end of the 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s) incidences of bulimia were observed to triple. Studies indicate that approximately 10 million women and 1 million men in the United States struggle with eating disorder issues and that bulimia being 40% more common than anorexia. Unfortunately, only three in ten individuals are ever treated for their disorder. This is a particularly devastating statistic given the extremely high early fatality rate of those who struggle with an eating disorder such as anorexia, where that mortality rate among young women is 12 times that of the general population.
The underlying causes of eating disorders are intricate combinations of genetic predispositions, emotional issues, societal influences, and environmental triggers but common aspects involve control issues, experience of some form of mental or physical trauma, and self-esteem and body-image problems. In many instances an individual attempts to seize a feeling of control over his or her life by adhering to a strict exercise regime or highly restricted diet. This illusory sense of control then becomes an entrenched behavioral pattern that is difficult to break.
Added pressure from one’s peers, along with constant exposure to barrage of media imagery which promotes unrealistic standards of beauty, can further ingrain negative food management habits. For individuals with compulsive overeating disorder, consumption of food is often a form a comfort seeking. A feature common to all eating disorders is the adoption of unhealthy behaviors that fail to address the core problems and which ultimately jeopardize the individual’s mental and physical health.
Parents and concerned family members who suspect a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder should be on the lookout for changes in behavior, altered attitude towards food, and a growing focus on weigh or appearance. While these symptoms could be possible indicators of a potential eating disorder one should seek the help of a professional therapist or clinician specializing in eating disorders for an accurate assessment.