WASHINGTON (7News) — Millions of Americans suffer from eating disorders and the physical and mental toll it takes. 7News On Your Side talked to an expert about what things parents should be aware of during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
Not all who suffer from an eating disorder are motivated by looking a certain way. The illness could be triggered by stressful events, relationship difficulties, physical illness or a significant life change, according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine Eating Disorders Program. It could also develop with another psychiatric illness.
Nearly one in 10 Americans are expected to develop an eating disorder in their lifetime, which amounts to 28.8 million people. The most common age range of onset is between 12 and 25 years old. Ten percent of cases are found in males. While they primarily affect young women, 10 percent of cases are found in males.
SEE ALSO | Virginia high school student creates non-profit to make therapy more accessible
For support or resources for you or a loved one, call or text the National Eating Disorder Helpline: at 800-931-2237. That line is open Monday through Friday. For immediate help during a crisis, text “NEDA” to 741741.
Second, only to opioid overdose, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). Each year, 10,200 people die as a result of an eating disorder.
“Eating disorders can affect all people,” said Dr. Gabrina Dixon of Children’s National Hospital. “I think sometimes when we think of eating disorders, we almost always think about just the female gender, but it could also affect teenage boys.”
The Donald Delaney Eating Disorders Clinic at Children’s National Hospital specializes in patients 10-21 years old with suspected eating disorders. The program focuses on psychology, medicine and nutrition for preadolescents and adolescents.
When it comes to children and young adults, ANAD has some staggering statistics:
There are common warning signs that vary across eating disorders. The National Eating Disorder Association identifies a general overview of behaviors that could indicate a problem, including extreme concern with body size and shape, withdrawing from usual friends or activities and a focus on weight loss and dieting.
Dixon says parents need to talk with their children if they notice changes in behavior or weight. If they do not want to share, there is another option.
“I am an auntie and I have a niece and nephew and sometimes my niece and nephew aren’t comfortable talking to their parents, but they are comfortable talking to me because I’m not their parent and I’m their auntie. So, if you have a family member or a close adult that you trust, have them talk to them because you know that you’re going to get the correct guidance of what to do,” she told 7News Health and Wellness Reporter Victoria Sanchez.
Dixon emphasizes parents should not trick their children into talking to someone else but have that trusted adult explain to their son or daughter that they are here to help and can be used as an advocate when starting the conversation with parents.
It is easy to blame social media for unrealistic body images which could spread problematic norms about weight. However, it could also provide a space to reduce social isolation and increase awareness of weight bias.
A 2022 research article in the Journal of School Health found schools are crucial for addressing overall weight stigma and poor body image. One area that researchers found alarming was common occurrences of weight-related teasing within friend groups. This might not be deemed as bullying by teachers or administrators.