There is little doubt that the media has an impact on the current nationwide obsession over weight. Television ads feature new deals from fast food joints that showcase a lower amount of calories, while other commercials focus on weight-loss supplements, such as Garcinia Cambogia, and programs like Insanity, and the South Beach diet. While the intention of these weight-loss strategies is to help people achieve the body they want, they also have a negative side effect on people who suffer from low self-esteem about their bodies.
One of the results of this push for dieting and weight loss is the development of eating disorders, which is fast becoming an epidemic in America, particularly in teenagers. Overall, eating disorders affect about 24 million people of all ages, both male and female, but these disorders are most prevalent in individuals between the ages of 12 and 25.
Also considered a form of mental illness, eating disorders cover a wide variety of problems, from anorexia and bulimia, to binge-eating. With anorexia, patients often starve themselves or severely limit the type and quantity of food they eat in order to maintain the body shape they perceive to be the “perfect” look. Bulimia takes the same mentality to another extreme and these sufferers purge the food they eat by using laxatives or diuretics, vomiting, or excessively exercising. This act is often followed by binge eating, and then purging again, often turning into a cyclic pattern.
Binge-eating is characteristic of those who do not feel any control over their eating. They consume large amounts of food in one sitting, but do not purge the food. As a result, these patients are typically obese or overweight. The shame associated with their binge-eating often spurs more eating, leading to additional weight gain.
Eating Disorders Impact Young Adults
There is perhaps more concern over the former two disorders as they are more prevalent in teenagers and young adults. Unhealthy weight control habits, such as vomiting, smoking cigarettes, fasting, taking laxatives, and skipping meals, are rampant among half of teenage girls and roughly 33% of boys, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
The concern for these patients is heightened because eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa, can lead to death. In fact, for females between the ages of 15 and 24, the mortality rate of anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the rate linked to any other cause of death. Further more, of all mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate.
There are no clear reasons as to the cause of these disorders, and most researchers point to a combination of psychological, genetic, biological, and social factors. These disorders are also usually a product of other mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, and could be the byproduct of a substance abuse problem.
With the help of teen treatment programs including psychotherapists, medication, and nutritional counseling, many patients have been able to overcome their negative self-perceptions, but for others, the disorder is an ongoing battle. The National Institution of Mental Health continues to conduct trials and further research to better understand eating disorders, and how to prevent them from affecting today’s youth. This research, and the work of organizations like NEDA, could be the key to stopping this epidemic in its tracks.