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Japan seeing rise in eating disorders

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Once thought to be a very Western-world phenomenon, eating disorders are now on the rise in other areas of the world.

In Japan, they're growing more rapidly than the nation can handle. According to the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, eating disorders spiked in the late 1990s and, in 2008, the country estimated that about 11,000 people were receiving treatment for an eating disorder nationwide.

Lack of care, lack of understanding

Japan's hospitals often can't handle the treatment of eating disorders, and health experts are urging the nation's leaders to establish a public institution that can specialize in this type of care.

"It's not just the small number of specialists, the problem is amplified by society's lack of awareness. People think eating disorders are just excessive dieting," said Teruko Ikuno, head of the mind-body medicine department at the Naniwa Ikuno Hospital in Osaka.

A young woman from the Chugoku region said that a doctor put her on medication for an eating disorder, but her condition did not improve. After visiting Ikuno, she started going to counseling sessions and is now able to eat three regular meals a day.

"If there had been a specialist doctor nearby, she would have received proper care earlier," Ikuno told the Asia News Network.

Children starting young

Among children as young as 9 or 10, dieting or flat out refusing to eat is becoming common in Japan, which can be a reaction to anything from fighting with parents to being bullied at school.

"Anybody could be affected by an eating disorder. Some patients have experienced mental problems and even committed suicide. Others have died from malnutrition," Ikuno said.

Since most institutions that can help treat eating disorders are located in highly urban areas, Ikuno notes that more specialized care is needed for those in more rural places.

"As experts, we need to work toward improving the support environment for eating disorder patients."

Source: Asia One