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Eating disorders are real, complex and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for a patient’s health, productivity and relationships – and even kill.

In the U.S., nearly 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Millions more struggle with binge eating disorder.

Patients need to seek professional help. For various reasons, many cases are not reported. In addition, many individuals struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. More than 80 percent of women are reported to be dissatisfied with their appearance.

Eating disorders affect people from all walks of life, including young children, men and individuals of all races and ethnicities. The peak onset occurs during puberty and the late teen/early adult years, but symptoms can occur as young as kindergarten.

More than one in three “normal dieters” progresses to pathological dieting.

Although eating disorders are potentially lethal, they are treatable.

For more information, visit NationalEatingDisorders.org. Call the Referral Helpline at: 1-(800) 931-2237

HEALTH CONSEQUENCES

In anorexia nervosa’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. The body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, resulting in:

• Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure. The risk for heart failure rises as heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.

• Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.

• Muscle loss and weakness.

• Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.

• Fainting, fatigue, and weakness.

• Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common.

• Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions, resulting in:

• Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium, sodium and chloride from the body as a result of purging behaviors.

• Potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing.

• Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.

• Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.

• Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.

• Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.

Binge eating disorder often results in many of the same health risks associated with clinical obesity, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and gallbladder disease.

Did you know?

• 40 percent of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old.

• There has been a rise in incidence of anorexia in young women 15-19 in each decade since 1930.

• Anorexia has the highest rate of mortality of any mental illness.

• Only 6 percent of people with bulimia receive mental health care.

• Americans believe government should require insurance companies to cover the treatment of eating disorders.

• Four out of 10 Americans either suffered or have known someone with an eating disorder.

CULT OF THINNESS

Our passion to be thin has become ingrained, even among children. Studies show that:

• Over half of teenage girls and nearly a third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).

• Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).

• 42 percent of first- through third-grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).

• 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).

• The average American woman is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5-foot-11 and weighs 117 pounds.

• 95 percent of all dieters will regain their lost weight in one to five years (Grodstein, et al., 1996).

• One-quarter of American men and 45 percent of American women are on a diet on any given day (Smolak, 1996).