Impact of Eating Disorders on Younger Generations

The number of adolescents who are struggling with eating disorders is rising at a troubling rate.  Exclusive statistics have revealed that in the past three years, the number of children and teenagers searching for help for an eating disorder has risen by 110 percent [1].  This may not come as a surprise, considering the culture in which younger generations are submerged in.  More so today than ever, children are exposed to increased pressures through social media, television, movies and the like, which are conveying powerful messages to the vulnerabilities of adolescents.  Children are facing new generational issues, such as cyber bullying and the saturation of pro-eating disorder websites, which are triggering mental health disorders in a different way.  These concerns bring about new challenges to our youth, increasing their susceptibility to eating disorders.

Just how much of our youth worldwide are being impacted by eating disorders? A recent study conducted by the Institute of Child Health in the United Kingdom found that over 60 percent of 13 year old girls and 40 percent of boys surveyed are afraid of gaining too much weight [2].  Research from this study also revealed that one-quarter of all female participants exhibited signs of an eating disorder by skipping meals, fasting, or throwing away food in attempt to avoiding “getting fat”.  The author of this study, Dr. Nadia Micali of England’s National Institute for Health Research, noted, “We have found that behaviors typical of an eating disorder are more common in early adolescence than previously thought, and not just in girls, but also in boys, and that they are associated with a range of social and psychological problems in the child.”

Similar research in the United States has shown parallel struggles among our nation’s youth.  A new survey by the National eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has revealed that children are developing body image insecurities as early as elementary school, with 42 percent of all first through third graders expressing the want to be thinner [3].

As eating disorder behaviors become normalized and cyberspace continues to be flooded with social media that promotes eating disorders through “pro-ana” or “pro-mia” websites, titles and hash tags, we have a responsibility to help our children rise above these negative influences.  Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, families, friends…it is our duty to remind our children of their true inner value and worth, to encourage them to find security in their uniqueness and individuality.  The world can be a dampening voice of darkness and uncertainty, but the light that is the innocence of our youth can shine brighter.  If you have a child in your life, take the opportunity to uplift them, inspire courage, and instill strength.  The battles that our children may face today are intense, ruthless at times.  Whether their adversary is an eating disorder, low self-esteem, or poor body image, let us be the example of hope to them that leads them to overcome.

“We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

Blog Contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RD and Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

References:

[1]: The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/exclusive-eating-disorders-soar-among-teens–and-social-media-is-to-blame-9085500.html

[2]: UCL Institute of Child Health, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ich/homepage

[3]: The National Eating Disorder Association, http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

*Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at freedigitalphotos.net

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website.