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Eating Disorders and the Media: How Much Does Media Play a Role?

Ben Barry Agency, model Lelia
Ben Barry Agency, model Lelia

A recent report revealed that eating disorders are sending more U.S. children to hospital.  The number of American children under 12 who were hospitalized because of an eating disorder has jumped 119 per cent between 1999 and 2006, according to a clinical report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We used to think eating disorders were the consequences of bad family dynamics, that the media caused eating disorders or that individuals who had certain personality traits got eating disorders,” Dr. David Rosen, a professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry at University of Michigan who authored the research, said.

“All of those can play a role, but it’s just not that simple. All young women are exposed to the same media influences, but only a small percentage of them develop eating disorders. So what is different about those 1 percent that develop an eating disorder compared to the 99 percent who don’t?”

The medical report may have missed those adolescents and young women and men who don’t necessarily have a hospital visit and do not receive an actual medical diagnosis.

Ben Barry

“I think when you look at eating disorders and body image from purely a medical perspective, you’re missing out 99%  of girls and women where we are dealing with day to day insecurities, worries and concerns, about not looking good enough,” Ben Barry, founder and CEO of the Ben Barry Agency, says.

“A lot of that comes from media images because everywhere where we look, no matter where we are, we’re surrounded by a singular beauty ideal.”

The Ben Barry Agency represents women of all different ages, sizes, backgrounds, abilities, as models and offer to the industry from solely hiring and casting models that actually reflect consumers.  His agency offers an alternative by connecting with the consumer and which reflects the consumer, and offering models that actually reflect the diversity of the target market.

Sharon DeVellis is a mom of two who struggled with anorexia and bulimia for many years.  When asked about the report findings, she said she found it worrisome, “especially since the girls and boys who are suffering from it are getting younger and younger.  But in a way, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”

“There’s such a focus on how we look in our society and while this is not the only reason (nor does it have to be one) someone would start down the road of eating disorders, I feel there’s this constant pressure to conform to one certain standard of beauty,” she says.

Although Barry says he wouldn’t argue that the media are the only cause, but they are certainly a critical cause.

Sharon DeVellis,
Sharon DeVellis

“Outside of the world of eating disorders, when you look and girls and woman and increasingly boys and men, it doesn’t have to do with family dynamics or abusive violent experience in their past, and it primarily has to do with media images because these images are inescapable, they are surrounding us, whether you’re walking down the street and you see billboards, you see posters on subways, you see images of the beauty ideal everywhere.”

DeVellis suffered with her eating disorder for a long time.   “I walked around for a very long time hating myself.  I was just never good enough and no matter how much weight I lost, that feeling never went away.  I kept thinking I would hit a magic number and suddenly I’d like who I was and how I looked.”

Eating disorders are much more complex than being an issue of food.  Many factors play a role.  But what’s disturbing is that children are now dealing with this issue, and that concerns DeVellis.

“The fact that young, elementary school kids (and younger) are making comments about their bodies means we as adults need to look at the overall picture and see what we can do to change it.”

Eating Disorders: The facts and how to get help

Eating Disorders in Hollywood

Eating Disorders: The Facts and How to Get Help

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are a group of conditions characterized by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and emotional health, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa being the most common specific forms in the United States.

Reasons for eating disorders are poorly known but may vary from person to person. Factors contributing to eating disorders range from ADHD to mental health disorders to body image. Some think that peer pressure and idealized body-types seen in the media are also a significant factor.

No Body is Perfect

What are some facts?

Here are is the astonishing truth:

In the United States:

  • It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men
  • One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia
  • Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia
  • Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder (Note: One in five Americans suffers from mental illnesses.)
  • An estimated 10 – 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are males

In Canada:

  • In 2005, more than 500,000 Canadians suffered from some sort of eating disorder (Canadian Mental Health Association).
  • According to a 2002 survey, 1.5% of Canadian women aged 15 – 24 years had an eating disorder.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, between 18-20%
  • Eating disorders are the most common chronic illnesses in the female adolescent population, with an incidence of up to 5%.
  • Men are more likely to be affected by binge eating disorder than any other type of eating disorder.
  • A study published in 2001 reported that 23% of adolescent females were dieting to lose weight
  • According to a 2002 survey, 28% of girls in grade nine and 29% in grade ten engaged in weight-loss behaviours.
Why are eating disorders prevalent in our youth?eating disorder awareness

Grade-nine students already see themselves as “too fat”.  According to a study, 37% of girls in grade nine and 40% in grade 10 perceived themselves as too fat.

Even those students who are normal in weight (based on their body mass index or BMI), 19% believed that they were too fat, and 12% of students reported attempting to lose weight.

Boys are not excluded from this disorder.  In a survey of adolescents in grades 7-12, 25% of boys reported being teased by their peers about their weight (girls 30%).

And it doesn’t stop at school.  Such teasing has been found to persist in the home as well – 29% of girls and 16% of boys reported having been teased by a family member about their weight.

Eating disorders and the Media:

Our girls are starting out way too early worrying about their weight.  What is to blame?

The link between eating disorders and the media is high on the list of factors.  Self-esteem becomes too closely tied to physical attributes and girls feel they can’t measure up to society standards.   My article on celebrities who suffer from eating disorders shows the prevalence of body image issues in Hollywood itself.

The media, including television, movies, videos, music, magazines and the internet all portray images of girls and women in a sexual manner, such as revealing clothing, body posture and facial expressions, as models of femininity for girls to emulate.  How can our young girls not be influenced if this is all they see?

What can you do?

Search for local treatment in your area.

Call or visit the website of a national organization, such as the National Eating Disorder Information Centre.    Womenshealth.gov offers some great resources as does the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Visit Girls Inc.

Visit Dove Self-Esteem 

Visit Teens Health 

Read a personal account by Sharon DeVellis

Read Part 1 on AMW here

Sources: http://www.nedic.ca/knowthefacts/statistics.shtml  and Wikipedia