About Eating Disorders

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About Eating Disorders

According to a 2004 online study conducted by Screening for Mental Health, Inc. 59.34% of students screened tested positive for symptoms of an eating disorder. Of those who scored positive, 96% were not in treatment for an eating disorder at the time of the screening.

By providing this information from Screening for Mental Health, Inc. (SMH), College Parents of America and SMH hope to encourage parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders that could affect their children. By being aware, parents can take the necessary steps towards prevention and treatment.

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are illnesses associated with disturbances in eating behavior, severe body image distortion and an obsession with weight. Sufferers are terrified of gaining weight and continue to diet or binge and purge even as their mental and physical health deteriorate. Generally, the three types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of eating disorders?

People with anorexia nervosa literally starve themselves by dramatically restricting their food/caloric intake. Symptoms include significant weight loss, refusing to maintain minimum normal body weight, loss of menstruation, dry skin, sallow complexion, disturbances in the perception of body shape, and an intense fear of gaining weight, even when underweight. Sufferers may develop a dangerously low body temperature or white blood cell count, severe heart problems, or brittle, weak bones.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent periods of binge-eating in which the sufferer eats until overly full, often while feeling out of control. As the binge ends, fear of weight gain causes the person to develop compensatory behaviors such as purging, generally by intentionally vomiting, using laxatives or compulsively exercising. Bulimics often develop swelling of the feet, hands and cheeks, and serious dental, throat and intestinal problems. This disorder may go undetected because the victim's weight can be at times normal or even somewhat overweight.

Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia but without the compensatory behavior. The binge eater eats enormous amounts of food very quickly, even when not hungry, until he or she feels uncomfortably full. Binge eaters often feel embarrassed and distressed by their inability to stop the binge.

 

The Facts: Students

  • 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting. 22% dieted "often" or "always." ⁵
  • 86% report onset of eating disorder by age 20; 43% report onset between ages of 16 and 20. ⁶
  • Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. ⁷
  • 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. ⁸
  • 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique. ³
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old. ⁴

 

The Facts: General Population

  • Almost 50% of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression. ¹
  • Only 1 in 10 men and women with eating disorders receive treatment. Only 35% of people that receive treatment for eating disorders get treatment at a specialized facility for eating disorders. ²
  • Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S. ³
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. ⁴

 

The Facts: Media, Perception, Dieting

  • 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight within 5 years. ³
  • 35% of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders. ⁵
  • The body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by only 5% of American females. ³
  • 47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures. ⁹
  • 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape. ¹⁰
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).

 

Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 199-208.

Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G.B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1991). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27-37.

For additional information on eating disorders and resources for families, visit SMH and theNational Eating Disorders Association.

1. Mortality in Anorexia Nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 1995; 152 (7): 1073-4.
2. Characteristics and Treatment of Patients with Chronic Eating Disorders, by Dr. Greta Noordenbox, International Journal of Eating Disorders, Volume 10: 15-29, 2002.
3. The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, "Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources," 2003.
4. American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 152 (7), July 1995, p. 1073-1074, Sullivan, Patrick F.
5. Shisslak, C.M., Crago, M., & Estes, L.S. (1995). The Spectrum of Eating Disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18 (3): 209-219.
6. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 10-year study, 2000.
7. Public Health Service's Office in Women's Health, Eating Disorders Information Sheet, 2000.
8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), The Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), offices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
9. Prevention of Eating Problems with Elementary Children, Michael Levine, USA Today, July 1998.
10. Ibid.


Screening for Mental Health, Inc. (SMH) is the non-profit organization that first introduced the concept of large-scale mental health screenings in 1991 with its flagship program National Depression Screening Day. Since then, the model of public education, screening, and referral for prevalent, under-diagnosed and treatable mental disorders has been reproduced in a variety of settings, including college campuses. SMH provides its program CollegeResponse to colleges and universities as an effective education and prevention program for: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, alcohol problems, suicide intervention and eating disorders. Through in-person and online screening tools, the program provides a flexible and effective risk management tool for schools to refer their students to the resources they need. For more information on the CollegeResponse program, please call our program office at 781-239-0071 ext. 110.

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