Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Eating Disorders among Adolescents and the Influence of Family

Teens should be aware about eating disorders.
The family serves as every person’s primary unit of life support and socialization. Heredity and modeling other people’s behaviors contribute to certain traits, including those that concern one’s weight. The Royal College of Psychiatrists or RCP (2008) posits that part of individual eating habits, however, is the ‘intense fear of becoming fat’ that has evolved into eating disorders.

Prevalence, major categories, and symptoms of eating disorders

As the National Centre for Eating Disorders or NCED (2009) notes, many people struggle to overcome their unhealthy relationship with food. In the United Kingdom (UK), for instance, over a million suffer from disordered eating (Smith 2011). Recent statistics show that this country has more than 2,000 teens and children suffering from this problem for the past few years (Press Association 2011).

Moreover, a 2004 mortality record shows a collective of over 400 deaths in the United States and Japan because of eating disorders. Likewise, the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Adolescent Friendly Health Services: An Agenda for Change (2002) cites the prevalence of eating disorders, obesity, and malnutrition in poor countries (p. 17). 

Anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) are the primary eating disorders. People with AN either restrict food intake or binge-eat and/or purge, whereas those with BN overeat and shed pounds through laxative/diuretics abuse, intensive fasting and exercising, and self-induced vomiting (First & Tasman 2010, pp. 444-445, 449-450).

Causes and effects of eating disorders 

Eating disorders occur due to attitudinal, behavioral, and generic risk factors, as well as family and social influences (WHO 2004, p. 44). These are shown through extreme dieting, negative body image, adopting other people’s behaviors, low media literacy and glamorization of thinness (p. 44). The WHO details that ‘...insecure attachment, physical and sexual abuse, bullying, low-self-esteem, and difficulties in coping with affective stress and conflict’ can likewise cause such an illness (p. 44).

The NCED (2009) explains that eating disorders have psychological and physical effects. These include depression, loss of concentration, obsession about food and weight, cravings, palpitations, and kidney problems, among others.

The family – Its role in adolescent eating disorders 

The family is crucial in nurturing a teen's self-esteem.
One factor that can influence a person’s disposition towards food is family. Melissa Spearing (2001) cites some studies that posit ‘...a high heritability...’ or genetically-determined susceptibility for both AN and BN. However, the Families Empowered And Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders or F.E.A.S.T (2010) points out that parents should be regarded as part of the solution—and not a cause—of eating disorders.

What to do 

Jeanne Segal et al. (2011) explain that an eating disorder can be overcome through psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, support groups, residential treatment, and hospitalization. The treatment though depends on the ‘...symptoms, issues, and strengths, as well as the severity of the disorder.’ 

The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (2004) recommends that family members should have a role in the treatment of eating disorders among children and adolescents. It names information sharing, heeding behavioral management advice, and open communication as among possible interventions.

Furthermore, the National Eating Disorders Association or NEDA (2011) advises parents to reflect on their attitudes about health and to share these thoughts with their child. They should also help improve her/his self-esteem, as well as encourage positive ways to combat negative thinking and emotions (Segal et al. 2011). 
According to the WHO (2012), enabling an adolescent to have better socials skills, problem-solving skills, and self-confidence helps combat not only eating disorders, but as well as mental and behavioral disorders. These include anxiety, depression, risky sexual and violent behaviors, and substance abuse. 

However, to assist families in taking care of their young, it is imperative for state governments and communities to provide support as well. The WHO (2002) prescribes comprehensive policies and substantial funding for adolescent-friendly public health services. Facilities should be accessible, acceptable, appropriate, and equitable so as not to alienate those who direly need such support. 

Furthermore, community health workers, including doctors and nurses, should have the technical competence on adolescent health. They also have to nurture and adopt a sympathetic and non-discriminatory stance when interacting with children and teenagers.  


Families Empowered And Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (F.E.A.S.T) 2010, Do Parents Cause their Children to Develop Eating Disorders?, F.E.A.S.T.

First, MB & Tasman, A 2010, Clinical Guide to the Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Disorders, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Nation Master 2004. 'Eating Disorders', Mortality Statistics

National Centre for Eating Disorders (NCED) 2009, Eating Disorders in Males, NCED.

National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health 2004, Clinical Guideline 9 – Eating Disorders: Core Interventions in the Treatment and Management of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, NHS National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
Press Association 2011, ‘Children's Eating Disorder Figures Cause Alarm’, The Guardian, August 1.

Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) 2008, Eating Disorders, Philip Timms (ed.), Public Education Editorial Sub-Committee, Leaflets Department, RCP, London.

Smith, J 2011, The Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders, Lion Publishing Services.

Spearing, M 2001, Eating Disorders: Facts about Eating Disorders and the Search for Solutions, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 

World Health Organization 2012, 'Adolescents and Mental Health', Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health.
*Other sources not included in this list are highlighted in the article.

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