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Is Harm-Advocating Online Content A Reason Eating Disorders Are Rising?

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Is Harm-Advocating Online Content A Reason Eating Disorders Are Rising?

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Trigger Warning: This article discussing eating disorders, anxiety, depression and associated issues.

Disturbing statistics about eating disorders have emerged in past years. According to research information from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the incidence of anorexia nervosa has been increasing in the past 50 years among young women aged 15 to 24. It’s a cause for alarm because individuals in this age group who have anorexia are also ten times more at risk of dying than their counterparts who don’t have the condition.

Weight Loss Buffs May Have BED

Previous studies about eating disorders found that binge eating disorder (BED) is three times more prevalent than anorexia nervosa and bulimia-thought to be two of the most common eating disorders. While bulimia increased in the ’80s and early ’90s, it has stabilized, the NEDA site says.

BED is also more common now than HIV, schizophrenia, and breast cancer. BED typically starts in the late teens and early adult years, but young children and older adults may develop the condition. Approximately 40 percent of persons with BED are male. And three out of 10 people who are looking for weight loss regimens show signs of having a BED.

Eating Disorders Are Starting Earlier Than Usual

The studies also found that eating disorder symptoms occur much earlier now than it used to, in both males and females. About 14 percent of adolescents getting treated for eating disorders in bulimia nervosa treatment centers were found to have symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Half of them limit eating due to fear of choking or vomiting, and 20 percent say they have some sensory issues with select food items. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that some of those with ARFID also have an anxiety disorder, a mood disorder, or part autism.

Reasons for Rising Cases of Eating Disorder

One of the common reasons for eating disorders is the individual’s occupation or hobby. Many athletes and dancers are involved in sports/activities that require a lean body or slim form are prone to controlling their diets. The popularity of social media has pushed young people to equate beauty with thinness and less weight. They have become obsessed with IG-ready bodies (meaning thin and flawless). Weight shaming has been elevated into a spontaneous culture as well, pushing more young people into unhealthy eating habits.

What’s also disturbing is that the Internet is filled with what is called “harm-advocating online content,” information about ways to hurt or harm yourself, which gets shared among small communities of users who may or may not already be on the verge of doing so. Since search engine results are user-generated, the more the information gets shared, the more it appears on top of search results, making it accessible to anyone, including young children and teens. These include sites that promote practices leading to eating disorders.

Increase of Eating Disorders During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has either caused individuals to develop eating disorders or aggravated the condition they have because of the following:

  1. Increased anxiety – Fear over getting infected by the coronavirus, getting separated from the family because of shelter-in-place rules, and problems arising from loss of livelihood or education are some things that raised anxiety levels.
  2. Irregular food sources – The picky eaters had difficulty sourcing the limited food items they want to eat unless they stocked their pantry. Those with anorexia worried about following their meal plans, while those with BED and bulimia nervosa slid into episodes of binge eating.
  3. Loss of coping mechanism – Anxiety is closely tied to eating disorders. In normal circumstances, individuals who get edgy find an outlet to destress themselves, to distract them from their condition. Being stuck at home didn’t help ease this anxiety.

If you know someone who developed an eating disorder during the pandemic or has a condition that worsened, persuade them to see a doctor. Getting professional medical advice is the best solution to their problem. Their eating needs and urges, after all, comes more from the mind than the stomach, so this condition is never going to be just a simple body image issue.

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