Sunday, January 28, 2007

Anorexia Nervosa: More Effective Intervention is Still Needed

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder found predominantly among young adolescent females, posing numerous physical, psychological, and emotional problems. Despite treatment and therapy for eating disorders like anorexia, there are still far too many individuals who succumb to this disorder, many of whom either fail in restoring their health, or die due to life threatening consequences. Because of an emphasis on a lean body image from fashion and media industries, young women are given the impression that they must be skinny if they want to be beautiful. They learn to idolize the models and actresses portrayed on T.V. or in magazines, resulting in a negative self-image, where emphasis is placed on thinness rather than health.

According to Mental Help Net, many teens are learning ways to lose weight through the Internet. It was found that “teens who look for eating disorder information on the Internet are more likely to be hospitalized for their condition than teens who don’t turn to the Web.” This is troubling because it demonstrates how adolescents learn and apply the easily accessible and potentially dangerous information they encounter on the Internet to reinforce harmful behavior. In response to a survey regarding Internet use and eating disorders, an alarming 41% had visited a pro-eating disorder website. Ninety-six percent of these teens “reported gleaning new weight-loss or purging information from the sites.” Due to a strong denial of a problem which occurs alongside of anorexia, it can be difficult to convince someone that they need treatment, and motivating that person to participate in their treatment is a challenging goal. Nevertheless, it is vital that education and treatment take place.

Some believe that it would be difficult to change social and cultural factors that favor thinness in women. There are well-established economic interests in industries such as fashion, physical fitness gyms, weight loss companies, diet, food products, and clothing companies. In addition, there is a dichotomy in this country between an epidemic in obesity, where weight loss and exercise is justifiable, and the rising incidence of anorexia nervosa, where weight loss is excessive and dangerous. There is also a concern that public awareness of eating disorders through education could promote more eating disorders, as susceptible individuals might learn improper eating habits from friends or the media. Despite these issues, it is clear that an effective intervention strategy should be developed for this large subgroup of individuals with persistent anorexic-like thinking, to reduce the vast number of cases of anorexia. Since it was shown that teens turn to the Internet for an assortment of information, some of which is inaccurate, the Internet and T.V. should be utilized as a means for preventing anorexia. For example, a study found that “an Internet-based intervention program may prevent some high risk, college-age women from developing an eating disorder,” according to the National Institutes of Health. The online program, which included reading assignments, keeping a body-image journal, discussion groups, and follow-up sessions, helped high-risk women learn about nutrition and diet while reducing their concern with weight and shape. While 30% of individuals in the control group developed an eating disorder within two years, only 14% in the intervention group developed an eating disorder within two years. While it is true that this success may not apply to all individuals, and not everyone has access to computers or internet, it is still a very viable, inexpensive option for preventing those at risk for an eating disorder.

In addition, a public service announcement program promoting the importance of healthy eating, and the harm of extreme dieting should be implemented. A national public campaign on TV reaching millions of viewers, possibly involving role models like movie stars revealing their own experiences with weight control problems, could promote awareness of eating disorders. Images of severely malnourished anorexics could be employed to illustrate how dangerous anorexia can be if not treated promptly. Fund raising campaigns for various treatment programs could be advantageous as well. The power of the media is very significant, and teens rely greatly on T.V. and Internet sources as noted earlier; thus these role models could be influential for young adolescents. While at first glance, this may seem impractical, however there are national campaigns against tobacco, smoking, and other addictions, and a campaign against the addiction of excessive dieting and weight loss seems appropriate. Just as there are weight-loss commercials for those who are overweight or obese, such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, there could be commercials emphasizing the importance of weight gain for those with eating disorders. While some may argue that a commercial designed for the sole purpose of educating others on the harm of eating disorders will be expensive, time-consuming, and quite possibly even unsuccessful, these individuals must ask themselves, will it be worth it if it helps someone? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? If it saves even just one life, then yes, they most certainly do. And anyways, until the program is implemented, its success will remain unknown. One will never know until it has been tried. Television and the Internet are used for numerous useless, insignificant, and trivial shows and sites, respectively, so why not make use of these influential mediums to expose people to information regarding a relevant and crucial issue that can benefit many individuals? There is no way to remove all misguiding, problematic, and damaging messages displayed through the media, but there is a way to enhance the media through providing informative and valuable messages, such as one for the prevention of anorexia.

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