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Eating Disorders: What Families Should Know

Beth Hess - Friday, February 16, 2018
Eating disorders can affect people of every age, gender, race and socioeconomic group, yet the average age of onset is quite young: 12-13 years. For this reason, it is important for families to be knowledgeable about the disorders.

Eating disorders are more prevalent among females than males – 3.8 percent of women are affected versus 1.5 percent of men. National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

The more common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge- eating disorder. These conditions may co-occur.

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious eating disorder characterized by a refusal to maintain a normal weight. People with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. Typically they severely restrict the amount of food they eat, and eat very small quantities of only certain foods. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. Some die from complications associated with starvation; others die of suicide.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by eating an abnormally large amount of food in a short time period, followed by an attempt to avoid weight gain by purging what was consumed. Methods of purging include forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, and/or excessive exercising. Unlike anorexia, bulimia can be a hidden disorder, with sufferers maintaining a normal weight.

Binge-eating Disorder:
People with binge-eating disorder have episodes where they completely lose control over their eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging or excessive exercise. Therefore people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight.

There is a misconception that rates of anorexia and bulimia have declined in recent years, perhaps because they have not been as widely reported on. While the rates of anorexia and bulimia rose in the 1980s and 1990s, they have remained steady since then, with the exception that there has been a rise in incidence among 15 to 19-year-old girls.

The good news is that most people with eating disorders eventually do recover, although it may be a lengthy process. Treatment tailored to those with eating disorders is key. Consult with your child’s pediatrician, and/or contact your insurance provider to identify specialized treatment providers. Also, the National Eating Disorder Association has a helpline: (800) 931-2237. Click for more information about the helpline


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