What eating disorders can tell us about the health care crisis
So I’m working on this paper for my argumentation class about how you define an eating disorder. We’re required to write “definitional arguments” for our next essay, and it seemed like an interesting subject. Timely, too-according to the flyers posted all over my dorm, last week was “Love Your Body/Eating Disorder Awareness Week.”
In researching this paper, I started looking up statistics, figuring that exact numbers on individuals who suffer from eating disorders would help strengthen my point. What I found was truly frightening.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as 3.7 percent of women in the United States suffer from anorexia, and as many as 4.1 percent suffer from bulimia. That might not sound like much, but estimates from Rader Programs suggest that as many as one in five college-aged women suffer from bulimia, and according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, another 15 percent of young women who are not diagnosed with an eating disorder exhibit the same pathological relationship with food. Combined more than one third of the young female population is affected.
If you think that’s scary, then get this: According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, only one in 10 anorexics will be treated for it, and of those in treatment, only one in five will be treated adequately. Only 30 to 40 percent of anorexics will recover, while up to 20 percent will die from problems related to the disease.
Similar statistics on bulimia were not available, but what’s frightening is that a lot more people probably struggle with this than are diagnosed, maybe even a lot of people who don’t realize they have a problem. Despite what we see in movies and the media, bulimia isn’t just making yourself throw up or abusing laxatives. It’s eating a big meal on Tuesday night and then not eating again until Thursday to try to average out your calories; it’s eating big over spring break and crash dieting the month thereafter. Binge-and-purge is far more commonplace than we like to think.
The obvious question is: Why is any of this relevant? Well, given the ongoing debate regarding access to health care in the United States and the current “Health care Crisis,” the facts are that a girl our age is 12 times more likely to die from anorexia than from any other cause and that most individuals with eating disorders are not being treated, and that even those who are are not being treated well seem like problems we should probably be talking about. Because, given how shocking those statistics sound, to me and to everyone I’ve spoken with recently, it obviously isn’t.
When we think of diseases, we think of cancer, heart disease and bird flu. A lot of people don’t even consider eating disorders as a form of disease, because the condition is “psychological” rather than physical. However, the symptoms are physical. (There’s a frickin’ mortality rate.) Even if you subscribe to the school of thought that addictions like alcoholism are not diseases, when you think about it, there’s a fundamental difference between eating disorders and alcoholism. You can quit drinking; you can avoid exposing yourself to alcohol. How do you quit and avoid food? You can’t-and that’s my entire point.
And what exactly is my point, you ask? Well, this: If we are ever going to solve the health care crisis and “fix” our society (physically, if nothing else), we have to change the way we think about health. We have to change the way we see disease, the way we define disease and the way we treat disease, especially in young people and especially, especially in young women. Because most women who suffer from anorexia are, socio-economically speaking, middle to upper class, with access to health care and health insurance. And yet only 0.5 percent of those women are receiving sufficient care. While this may not be the most pressing issue facing the nation, it’s still an issue. This is an issue that should matter to us given the demographics of this University and the fact that all of us can likely think of at least one person who, if she does not have an eating disorder, at least diets excessively. Yet, this is an issue we hear almost nothing about, save that one week when they put up flyers and have a film-screening of “Thin.”
If there’s one thing scarier than the fact that one in three girls is struggling with these issues, it’s this: How many of those girls, do we think, even know it?
Sara is a junior in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].
Popularity: 1% [?]