8 July 2014, 13:39

Anorexia - highest mortality rate among eating disorders

Anorexia - highest mortality rate among eating disorders
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Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any other psychiatric illness. Anorexia, in particular, has a mortality rate 12 times higher than any other cause of death in women ages 15 to 24, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Surprisingly, it is the least prevalent of all eating disorders: only 10% of people suffer from anorexia, according to Leanne Thorndyke, Head of Communications at BEAT - UK’s leading charity organization supporting people affected by eating disorders.

The onset of the illness is early to mid-adolescence and if left untreated, anorexia can lead to abnormally low heart rate and blood pressure, osteoporosis, severe dehydration and eventually death. Anorexics are highly skeptical about getting treatment, Dr. Caz Nahman, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in eating disorders, said:

“The statistics vary, but between 10 and 20 percent of people who get this illness can die from it. 90 percent of young people who get it, or even adults, are female. In the case of some young people there will be food avoidance as well as purging. There is massive body image distortion, a fear of becoming fat, and a desire to remain at a low weight. They’ve got very mixed feelings about getting any help, but they get very preoccupied about weight, shape, size, food, eating. And there’s a lot of distress every time they eat,” Dr. Caz Nahman said.

A lot of people who suffer from anorexia falsely believe that they are well and that their unhealthy eating habits are a lifestyle choice. Websites promoting anorexia, also called pro-ana sites, provide tips and tricks on how to get thinner, and are full of “thinspirational” messages such as “pretty girls don’t eat” and “skip dinner, be thinner”.

If anorexia has been allowed to progress too far, it is crucial that the person gets within a normal weight range before they can proceed with any other treatment, Jackie Grandie, outreach and education coordinator for the national eating disorder information center in Canada, said:

“Most treatment focuses on the physiological issues in the early phases of therapy. When we say physiological issues we’re talking about normalizing eating and gaining weight. For a lot of people who have been restricting their food intake or who have been perhaps affecting their physical health over the years in a negative way, it’s really important for them to learn what a normal process of eating looks like and to gain weight back so that they can be cognitively ready to begin the next phase of treatment, which is looking at psychological issues,” Jackie Grandie said.

Early prevention is the most effective way of treating anorexia. It is not an easy task, considering that the modern society and the social media culture work against people when it comes to the issues of body image and health. There are web resources and help centers that try to offer all the support they can to people suffering from eating disorders and their relatives. But a lot of people are hesitant to talk about their food issues and according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, the number of people, especially children and teenagers, admitted to hospital for eating disorders is growing every year.

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