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There are two major health issues that our nation has been confronting over the past few years, obesity and eating disorders. Both are on the rise and at nearly opposite ends of the spectrum. Ironically, while eleven million Americans with eating disorders are virtually starving themselves, the United States is facing an obesity epidemic affecting some sixty million people. (Prah) Obesity is serious, don’t get me wrong, but anorexia seems to be much more life threatening. Eating disorders are now considered mental illnesses, and very serious ones at that. “Anorexia and bulimia were first recognized as mental illnesses in 1980,” quotes Prah. Suicide is what most often ends a case of anorexia, making it the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, topping even depression. There are three main factors that influence a person’s susceptibility to an eating disorder, but the media seems to top the list. With models drowning in size zero clothes and celebrities flaunting hip and collarbones on their skeletal figures, it’s not wonder that eating disorders are raging their way through today’s children.
Eating disorders are becoming more and more popular with each passing day. Most treatment centers across America are now accepting patients as young as age eight, and have seen patients getting treated that have reached their early sixties. (Prah) These days, anyone can have an eating disorder. Whether a person is Hispanic, African-American, man, woman or child, they are susceptible to an eating disorder give the right circumstances. It was once thought that only young, white females of the upper class got eating disorders, but that has recently been proven untrue. Researchers at Marywood College in Scranton, PA, interviewed 650 fifth and sixth graders about how they felt about themselves and their bodies. (“Eating Disorders”) “Seventy-three percent of girls and forty-three percent of boys already wanted to be thinner. Fifty-eight percent had tried to lose weight, and eleven percent had what the researchers called ‘disordered eating’ attitudes.” This period is the most vulnerable, that of mid-adolescence. In another closely related research, one in five ninth grade girls had binged and purged, and two in five seniors had done the same. So why is this dangerous trend becoming so popularized and common?
Nearly everyone knows of someone with an eating disorder or just knows about eating disorders in general. What we all want to know is what the main reasons are for people acquiring an eating disorder. There are three main sources that researchers think may play a part in eating disorders. (Prah) Environment and social pressure play a large part in eating disorders. This includes areas such as home life, school surroundings and the activities a person may participate in. Another area that has recently been getting a lot of publicity and research is brain chemistry and genetics. It is now being proven that some people have a predisposition to getting an eating disorder based on their families past and their own unique brain chemistry. The last, and probably most important factor of eating disorders is media. The media is very distorted on their views of beauty, and researchers now believe that this is the main outlet for children and even adults to acquire eating disorders. Media and societal pressure are most likely the ones to blame for eating disorders.
Environment has long been known as the main cause for eating disorders, but that is now being placed on the back burner. “Family behavior closely shapes the anorexic’s eating habits.” (Prah) Research increasingly shows that eating disorders tend to run in families, but we’ll get to that later. Any type of physical activity a child may be in can harm their eating habits greatly. Student Sarah Putnam of NC’s Elon University knows firsthand the damaging effects of theater and the pressure to be skinny. At her school, the theater students would often share ideas for staying thin, like laxatives and exercising excessively. Sarah’s weight dropped dramatically to a thin 100 pounds, and she was soon getting praise from classmates and teachers. The school environment she was in pushed her to eating disorder attitudes and there were damaging affects. Another prime example is that of Kitty. (Brown) Kitty suffered from an eating disorder when she was 14 years old. Although it was not proven, her mother was raised in a very strict family where disordered eating was the norm. Kitty’s mother was forced into Weight Watchers at age 15 and their weight as children was monitored very closely. It is very possible that because of the eating habits of her mother, Kitty was fooled into thinking that her ways of eating were normal. As I mentioned before, it was always thought to believe that only white women from high-class families had eating disorders because of the intense pressure from their families. (Tyre) It was also blamed on the pressure-cooker environment of schooling, the pressure to be thin. It was once noted that skinnier girls are more likely to date than those girls who are heavier. This is unfair to today’s kids that families, school and friends are so judgemental and discriminatory.
Research is also showing new ideas as far as brain chemistry and genetics playing a role of eating disordered people. Most often, there is a genetic role being played in why a person gets an eating disorder. (Tyre) As I mentioned before, in the last ten years, research has shown that eating disorders run in families. In a study of 2163 female twins, it was shown that 77 of them had eating disorders. In comparing the number of identical twins suffering from eating disorders with the number of fraternal twins with it, identical twins have a much higher chance of the both of them having an eating disorder. It is also shown that 50% of the risk of developing an eating disorder is contributed to genes. There is also a large amount of brain chemistry involved. “In an anorexic’s brain, the levels of serotonin are extremely high. High levels of serotonin are linked to feelings of anxiety and obsessions. Anorexics use starvation as a form of self-medication. Starvation prevents trytophane, a serotonin producer, from getting to the brain.”(Tyre) Lack of trytophane means lack of serotonin, therefore reducing their high amounts of serotonin. They then feel calmer than before, and always resort back to starvation to make themselves feel better.
One of the most accessible outlets to teenagers and children today is the media, and with celebrities and models looking like twigs, they can often be the biggest influence, often inducing eating disorders. “The promotion of the thin, sexy ideal in our culture has created a situation where the majority of girls and women don’t like their bodies,” says body-image researchers Sarah Murnen. (Hellmich) Celebrities like Nicole Richie and Mary-Kate Olson get plastered on magazines everyday, and by flaunting their emaciated bodies and rail-like figures, they promote people to be unhealthily skinny. Murnen is also quoted again to say, “…and even in grade one, girls think the culture is telling them that they should model themselves after celebrities who are svelte, beautiful and sexy.” It is common knowledge that first grade girls should not be concerned about their weight at such young age. This is what the media does to kids. Cindy Leive, the editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine says of their models, “Some models were teens that who hadn’t developed their curves yet, which is one reason they appeared so thin.” She also mentions how they have heard stories of girls who come to their agency and are collapsing because they are so thin and malnourished from not having eaten in days. She also gives the basic anatomy of a runway model. She says they are 14-19 years old and 120-124 pounds. They all must wear size 2-4 clothes, or else they won’t be able to fit in the clothes. This is unrealistic of today’s society and puts a negative image in the minds of children. An article in Marketing week, they announce the return of Celebrity Bodies magazine, which was once banned because of its super-skinny models. (Brierly) This causes much controversy because of the aforementioned fact. In the article, Sean Brierly mentions the book “Fat is a Feminist Issue”, by Susie Orbach. Her book details the idea that media greatly distorts the image of what women are supposed to be. This just helps prove the fact that media has an unfair advantage in controlling our minds into what we think “beautiful” really is.