FRANKFORT, KY -- Eating disorders affect from 1 to 3 percent of young women in the United States, according to the 2002 Kentucky Women’s Health report produced by the state Division of Women’s Physical and Mental Health in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. These disorders are associated with an obsession with food, body weight or body shape. First classified as mental illnesses in 1980, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
In observance of national Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Feb, 27 - March 5, the Division of Women’s Physical and Mental Health offers information to help identify, understand and prevent eating disorders.
The three most common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Anorexia is the most severe, with a mortality rate of about 10 percent of all cases. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports the death rate from anorexia is about 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all causes of death among females ages 15-24 in the general population.
According to the women’s health report, 13 percent of Kentucky girls in grades 5-8 and 18 percent of girls grades 9-12 engage in binge-and-purge behavior, 33 percent of whom binge-and-purge at least once a day.
Experts suggest a variety of factors may increase the risk for eating disorders. Eating disorders can arise from a variety of physical, emotional, social and familial issues.
According to NIMH, psychological factors that can contribute to and co-occur with eating disorders include low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life, depression, anxiety, anger or loneliness. Eating disorders can also be triggered by interpersonal factors like troubled family and personal relationships; difficulty expressing emotions and feelings; a history of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight; and a history of physical or sexual abuse.
Cultural pressures that glorify "thinness" and place value on obtaining the "perfect body” and social norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance are among the interpersonal factors that contribute to eating disorders.
“Eating disorders are serious, complex problems,” said Joyce Jennings, Director of the Division of Women’s Physical and Mental Health. “Our cultural obsession with thinness has led to declines in self-esteem and self-respect that can then lead to dangerous behaviors, including eating disorders.”
Anorexia’s cycle of self-starvation, the recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia and the unhealthy weight gain from binge eating disorder can have serious, lasting health consequences. Some of these consequences are:
Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure which raise the risk for heart failure;
Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis) and muscle mass;
Kidney failure from severe dehydration;
Potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing;
Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus, tooth decay and staining from frequent vomiting;
Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis;
Type II diabetes; and
By providing facts about eating disorders, the cabinet hopes to “reach more girls and young women before they suffer the serious health effects and unresolved emotional issues from eating disorders that deprive them of happy, productive lives,” Jennings said.
Jennings said one of the best ways to prevent eating disorders is to help children develop a positive body image and healthy eating and physical activity habits early in life.
“By eating well and maintaining an active lifestyle, weight issues may be avoided or minimized,” she said. “Also, helping children understand early on that healthy bodies come in different shapes and sizes and to place less value on outward appearance and more on inner strengths and character can offset some of the cultural and media messages that can lead to unhealthy eating habits.”
In Kentucky, public health departments can provide Medical Nutrition Therapy for people with or without insurance. Registered or licensed dietitians or certified nutritionist offer this service in most Kentucky counties.
Besides the individual counseling, dieticians or nutritionists may also provide group nutrition education in the community. These activities may include speaking to a high school class about eating disorders, conducting grocery store tours to view healthy food choices, food demonstrations and cooking classes or working with weight loss support groups. Call the health department in your area to find out what nutritional services are available in your area.
The state Personnel Cabinet’s Kentucky Employee Assistance Program Web page offers a link to online screening services, including a screening instrument for eating disorders. To access this screening survey, go to https://www.mentalhealthscreening.org/screening/welcome.asp and type in the keyword “Kentucky” and select “Begin the Screening” for a list of screening instruments, then select “Take the Eating Disorders Screening.”
For more information on eating disorders or medical nutritional services, contact the state Department of Public Health, Nutrition Services Branch toll-free at 1-800-462-6122.