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03-14 Social pressures are a big risk factor for eating disorders in children

Social pressures are a big risk factor for eating disorders in children

Eating disorders are a disease; most people understand this.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. will have a serious eating disorder at one point in their lives. Diseases like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder can – and do ­– have fatal consequences if left untreated. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, complications from anorexia cause 20 percent of the people with the disease to die prematurely.

These are serious figures for any disease, but eating disorders are different from most diseases in a variety of ways. Chiefly, determining risk factors for them is very difficult.

What are the risk factors in children?

The exact cause of eating disorders is currently unknown. These disorders often have a powerful psychological and emotional component driving them, such as low self-esteem and perfectionism. Abuse and trauma can be a risk factor for eating disorders: A history of childhood sexual abuse appears to be a risk factor for bulimia, and a study published in the journal “Eating Disorders” in 2007 found a link between eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, organizations like NEDA as well as other researchers acknowledge social pressures frequently play a large role in how eating disorders develop. In 2011, the London School of Economics conducted an economic study of anorexia, the first of its kind. The researchers studied almost 3,000 young women across Europe, and found many young women starve themselves to achieve what they consider an ideal body shape, leading the researchers to call anorexia a “socially transmitted disease.”

Additionally, a study published in the journal “Pediatrics” in 2007 found girls who frequently read magazine articles about dieting and weight loss were much more likely to engage in unhealthy weight-loss behaviors.

Some researchers have found there may be a genetic component to eating disorders. A study conducted by the University of Iowa and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center studied families that had eating disorders across generations. Researchers found family members who had a mutation in two different genes had a very high percentage of developing an eating disorder.

Signs of eating disorders

Like any disease, eating disorders have symptoms. NEDA advises concerned parents to look for signs like dramatic weight loss, avoidance of mealtimes and comments about feeling “fat” regardless of weight loss. Physical signs of eating disorders include dry skin, constantly feeling cold, fainting and menstrual irregularities in girls. Bulimics often develop dental problems from constant vomiting, as well as cuts and calluses on their finger joints. Many people with eating disorders will also use and abuse laxatives, diet medications and diuretics.

If you or a loved one is dealing with an eating disorder, it’s very important to seek treatment. Eating disorders can do a tremendous amount of physical and mental harm to both the patient and those around them, which is why seeking treatment for them is critical. Diseases like anorexia and bulimia have both physical and mental components, and both must be treated in order for recovery to be effective.

Fortunately, eating disorders do respond to therapy and other forms of treatment. Sovereign Health’s Rancho San Diego facility is introducing a new eating disorders treatment program for adolescent girls aged 12 to 17. Our treatment center is staffed with compassionate experts in the field of mental health, and we use scientific, effective methods to treat mental health and substance abuse issues.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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