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Prevalence of Eating Disorders

I've written several reports regarding eating disorders in my Psychology classes at UNC. Here is one of them regarding the prevalence of eating disorders (this was in the format of a research blog):

Imagine yourself standing in a school auditorium with 200 students from thirteen to eighteen years old. Looking out into the crowd, if exactly half are women, over eighty of them will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. The issue of eating disorders must not be just the treatments after they’ve already been developed; they must be stopped at the source. Through recent research, the effort to reduce the prevalence of eating disorders has been a major focus through training programs in schools as well as other treatments such as drug therapy.

Adolescence is the most susceptible time for the development of eating disorders. Despite the fact that the overall rate of eating disorders has remained constant over time, “there has been an increase in the high-risk group of 15-19-year-old girls” (Smink et al). According to a Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2001, 35 percent of adolescent girls think they’re overweight, and 62 percent of them are actively trying to lose weight, whether in a healthy way or not (Gorla). There are three defined categories of eating disorders: bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and unspecified eating disorders, which includes binge eating disorder. The latter category compromises 50 percent of all cases of eating disorders (Treasure et al). It is important to note that dieting as a result of body image issues does not necessarily entail an eating disorder. An eating disorder’s development is the interplay of biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Women are more affected than men; 0.9 percent of women have anorexia nervosa, 3.5 percent have binge eating disorder, 1.5 percent have bulimia nervosa, compared to men: 0.3 percent, 2.0 percent, and 0.5 percent respectively (Treasure et al).

To combat the increase of prevalence of eating disorders in the stage of adolescence, efforts in schools are being implemented. According to Dr. Elisha Carcieri, the earlier an eating disorder is recognized and intervention occurs, the more likely the person will recover with treatment. To do so, prevention programs, training of school personnel to identify and intervene properly, and screening for eating disorders are being implemented. Notable prevention programs include: Body Project, The Healthy Weight Intervention, and Healthy Body Image: Teaching Kids to Eat and Love Their Bodies Too. Also, the elimination—or significant modification-- of preexisting obesity testing is in effect to avoid self-shame mentalities. Eating disorder prevention programs prove to be quite effective. School programs can still focus on a healthy lifestyle, but not body image or weight (Carcieri). Also, here are some tips (with inspiration from on what to say—and not to say--to someone with an eating disorder:

Educational institutes have the potential to be the most important system to influence a child in adolescence and therefore help with the reduction of eating disorders as a whole. Therefore, the implementation of uplifting and appropriate action in that environment are necessary.

For more information on preventative measures that can be taken and what to look out for in students, specifically on college campuses, visit:

Even with the availability and promotion of therapy and prevention programs, there are a significant number of adolescents who knowingly have an eating disorder, yet are unwilling to seek professional help. Therefore, there is debate over the effectiveness of pharmacotherapy versus verbal therapy. According to Kiranmai Gorla, the scientific outcome of that debate shows opposite answers depending on the type of eating disorder. The use of drugs as treatment for anorexia nervosa are ineffective compared to therapy. Although, prescribed antidepressants can be used effectively as prevention from relapse for recovered patients. Bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, has shown to be very well-benefitted from pharmacotherapy. Most of the drugs used are to reduce binge frequency, promote weight loss, and work as an antidepressant. With that, the most effective of those drugs include: fluoxetine, trycyclic antidepressants, desipramine, amitriptyline, oxidase inhibitors, imipramine, monoamine, busprione, and appetite suppressants (Gorla).

The most promising drug for treatment of bulimia nervosa—specifically targeting the reduction of binge frequency-- is topiramate. In some cases, a victim of an eating disorder could require hospitalization based on certain guidelines like medical condition, age, and availability of resources. There, the victim would have a support team composed of a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, a nurse, a dietitian, and a therapist (Gorla). If eating disorders are left untreated, the mortality rates increase. For anorexia nervosa, that rate is unfortunately around 0.56 people per year; women with this disorder also “have a 10-fold increase in mortality compared to women who were unaffected” (Gorla). Action must be implemented to reduce this saddening statistic before it worsens.

Support networks—that include one’s family and school environment—are vital in regards to any hope of recovering. Preventative and treatment measures are available and should be utilized and made known. Eating disorders are vicious cycles that consume the minds of too many teens, often going unknown, and they must be broken.

Works Cited

Astrid, Charlotte. Body Image. 6 Apr 2010. Flikr,

Azuz, Carl. “Why Teens Suffer From Eating Disorders”. CNN. <>.

Carcieri, Elisha. “Should Schools Have Eating Disorder Prevention Programs?” Mirror Mirror: Eating Disorder Help.2015. <>.

Gorla, Kiranmai and Maju Mathews. “Pharmacological Treatment of Eating Disorders.” Psychiatry MMC, vol. 2, 6, pp. 43-48. <>.

Smink, Frédérique R.E., “Epidemiology of Eating Disorders: Incidence, Prevalence and Mortality Rates.” SpringerLink, vol. 14, no. 4, 2012, pp. 406-414. <>.

Treasure, Janet. “Eating Disorders.” Science Direct, vol. 375, no. 9714, 2010, pp. 583-593. <>.

Eating Disorders: Victoria. Web. <>.

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