Today marks the commencement of National Eating Disorders Week, a time used to raise awareness around the disorders that affect an estimated 24 million Americans and their loved ones. Formed in 2001, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) sponsors National Eating Disorders Week to help focus on prevention and treatment while working to advocate for increased understanding and research. As health experts work to better understand the afflictions, they remind those who may be affected that eating disorders are about more than just food.
Common eating disorders currently include anorexia nervosa (characterized by the insistent pursuit of being thin), bulimia nervosa (characterized by the cycle of binge-eating and purging), and binge eating disorder (binge-eating without purging). However, a relatively rare eating disorder is also garnering more attention as of late. A recent article in the Journal of Adolescent Health discussed the lesser known eating ailment called Night Eating Syndrome, a disorder characterized by excessive night eating and found in an estimated 3 percent of the study participants surveyed.
Although eating disorders are often characterized by a person’s relationship with food and eating habits, health experts are quick to remind those affected that eating disorders are about more than just food. Dr. Aaron Krasner, psychiatrist and Service Chief of the Adolescent Transitional Living Program at Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut, describes eating disorders as complicated issues that are still in the process of being understood. Kasner stated that there is certainly both a “genetic component and an environmental component” to consider and that prevention and treatment are not one size fits all strategies. Many eating disorders are characterized by underlying mental health issues that must be taken into account to ensure successful treatment programs. The most common mental health issues found in patients with eating disorders are mood disorders, depression, and obsessive compulsive behaviors.
According to Fox News, health experts are becoming increasingly concerned about the recent rise in eating disorders, especially among college students. The National Institute of Mental Health recently estimated that a quarter of college students are currently struggling with an eating disorder of some kind. While genetics often play a role in eating disorder predisposition, some believe that the increase in atypical eating habits and societal pressures, including those perpetuated by the media, can also contribute to the prevalence of eating disorders. However, college students are not the only population reflecting an increase in poor body image. Troubling survey results released by NEDA indicated that insecurities around body image can develop when kids are still in elementary school. The survey indicated that a shocking 42 percent of first, second, and third graders report a desire to be thinner.
Because of the underlying conditions that may occur along with eating disorders, health experts are quick to remind those who may be struggling that eating disorders are about more than just food. Medications and behavioral therapy are often used in conjunction to successfully treat both the eating disorder and the underlying mental health issues commonly found. Health experts urge those who may be affected by an eating disorder to seek professional treatment, stating that early intervention is critical.
By Katie Bloomstrom