National Eating Disorders Awareness Week Serves to Highlight an Overlooked Epidemic
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAwaress Week), observed this year from February 22-28, aims to raise awareness about and increase public understanding of the seriousness of eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Recognized in the DSM-V as legitimate mental illnesses, eating disorders affect an estimated 24 million men, women and children across the country (Eating disorders statistics, n.d.).
This year’s NEDAwareness Week theme, “I Had No Idea,” seeks to clear up the confusion that so often surrounds these potentially deadly illnesses. According to statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) (n.d.) and the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) (n.d):
- 86% of eating disorders develop before the age of 20
- 95% of eating disordered individuals are between 12 and 20 years old
- Men account for 10-15% of the eating disordered population with homosexual males being at the highest risk
- Mortality rates are four to six times higher in all people with eating disorders and 12 times higher for girls ages 15 to 24 than in the general population
- 20% of anorexics suffer premature death due to complications from the disease
- Eating disorders in general have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
- Athletes in competitive sports are more than twice as likely to have an eating disorder with the risk being highest among females in aesthetic sports
Kids are at high risk for eating disorders as well. As many as 81% of 10-year-olds already fear being fat with 47% of girls in 5th to 12th grade reporting that the unrealistic body images portrayed in magazines make them want to lose weight (Get the facts, n.d.). As many as 57% of young girls are already using unhealthy measures such as crash dieting and laxative abuse in an attempt to control their weight. On college campuses, anorexic and bulimic behaviors are common with both men and women engaging in dangerous dieting practices.
Signs and symptoms of eating disorders include(Signs of an eating disorder, 2013; Types & symptoms, n.d.):
- Fear of gaining weight even when already underweight
- Shame, guilt and/or a lack of control associated with eating
- Binge-purge cycles consisting of eating large amounts of food followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising and/or laxative abuse
- Bingeing without purging
- Unreal perception of body image regardless of weight
- Self-esteem linked strongly to body image
- Denial of the existence or severity of the disorder
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to tell if someone has an eating disorder. These illnesses can be very personal and private, with signs seeming to be no more serious than a desire to eat healthier, lose a few pounds or exercise more. NEDA’s theme of “I Had No Idea” serves to highlight that there could be something deeper going on. With 35% of dieters progressing to pathological dieting behaviors and 20 to 25% of those going on to develop eating disorders (Eating disorders statistics, n.d.), it’s vitally important that more people learn the warning signs so that sufferers can be helped before the disease progresses to a dangerous extent.
It’s easy to get involved and spread the word about this largely overlooked and often misunderstood epidemic. Use the #NEDAwareness tag on social media throughout the week to share this important information and raise awareness about the widespread problem of eating disorders in America. Together, we can make a difference and save lives. Visit NEDAwareness.org for more information or, if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the NEDA Helpline at 800-931-2237.
Eating disorders statistics. (n.d.). National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disoders. Retrieved February 18th, 2015, from http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/
Get the facts on eating disorders. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved February 18th, 2015, from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders
Kaye, W. (n.d.). Mortality and eating disorders. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved February 18th, 2015, from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/mortality-and-eating-disorders
Signs of an eating disorder. (2013). In WebMD. Retrieved February 18th, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/signs-of-eating-disorders
Types & symptoms of eating disorders. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved February 18th, 2015, from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/types-symptoms-eating-disorders