Eating disorders, which include anorexia, bulimia, and other behavior patterns marked by extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food, continue to be a pervasive problem affecting children and youth. An estimated 0.5 percent of American women suffer from anorexia, and between one to two percent from bulimia, resulting in 0.8 to 14 percent of Americans generally having at least some of the physical and psychological symptoms of an eating disorder. These disorders can have significant and long-term effects on the physical, mental and emotional health of both the affected individual and his or her family and friends. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and anorexia is particularly deadly. The mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate for all causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
A recent report published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that not only are eating disorder rates continuing to rise, these disorders are spreading into new populations. Of particular concern is the significant increase in eating disorders for children under the age of 12; hospitalizations for eating disorders for this age group have jumped by 119 percent in recent years. Also of concern are the increasing rates of eating disorder among boys, minority populations and individuals from a lower socioeconomic background, all groups that have previously had low rates of eating disorders. These data suggest the need for more intensive research into both the etiology and treatment of eating disorders.
Also of note, the report suggests an increase in eating disorders both among immigrant populations in the United States and in other non-Western countries. Dr. Eileen Anderson-Fye, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at CWRU and a Schubert Center Faculty Associate, conducts research examining the phenomenon of eating disorders in other cultural contexts. Her work focuses on the role of culture in mediating notions of body image and norms around food and eating, specifically in Belize. Dr. Anderson-Fye’s work also addresses how body image and eating may change in the context of globalization, a process which is itself associated with increased rates of eating disorders.