It is a problem that is often not discussed around the dinner table, but affects nearly 60,000 British Columbians, including 1,000 children.
Eating disorders, which include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, are serious health issues that need to be addressed and discussed in our society.
Studies have shown that these eating disorders often have an early age of onset and that they usually signal other mental health problems that children may be facing.
Those with eating disorders have an intense focus on their body weight and may be highly obsessed with their body image. Though both males and females can have eating disorders, 90 per cent of those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia are women.
According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, “40% of nine year-old girls have dieted to lose weight.” Hence, it is important to address this public health problem at the earliest stage, especially in the school and home environment.
While television programs and the media certainly play a role in perpetuating the idea of the “ideal” body size, our own attitudes towards dieting also play a role in further accelerating the problem of eating disorders. The problem is so serious that of all other mental disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate and they are a growing problem.
Often, a social stigma is attached to these disorders, and teens may not feel comfortable revealing the fact that they face such problems. In order to tackle these disorders, parents and educators must look for warning signs in order to prevent undiagnosed cases.
Equally important is for teens to realize and admit that they have an eating disorder and seek help.
While these disorders are certainly discussed in high school planning and science classes, students facing such disorders may still feel hesitant to admit that they have a problem.
It is not enough for schools to simply raise awareness of these issues. School counsellors must take a more active step in looking out for warning signs, which include extreme weight loss, excessive exercise routines, abnormal eating habits, and lower self-esteem.
The onus is also on parents to recognize these signs and examine other factors that may be contributing to abnormal eating behaviours, as early detection and treatment is imperative.
Instilling a sense of confidence in a child and focusing on health, instead of weight, should be the main focus in a household.
Teens adopt attitudes about weight and body size from the media, the home and the school hallways. Solving the problem of eating disorders will take a joint effort.
As students, we should change our attitudes about what it means to have the “ideal” body size and focus on our talents and hobbies. It is not cliché to say that it is the inside that really matters.
For more information about eating disorders and who you can contact for help, visit www.cmha.bc.ca/get-informed/mental-health-information/eating-disorders.
Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.