Eating Disorders: How much responsibility does society have?

Since our first post on the prevention and diagnosis of eating disorders, and in the last 3 years, the data have increased. Also their trend does not seem to be remitting. In this post, Naiara Casanueva Manrique, specialist in Educational Psychology, updates the issue including a point of social responsibility on which to reflect.

The 2020 pandemic has generated many changes in the behavior of people, (children, adolescents and adults), due to the situation of uncertainty that has been experienced. At the beginning of 2023, its consequences are still being suffered. These behavioral changes can be observed in the increase in violence, suicides, abusive consumption of drugs and food, addictions, mental disorders such as anxiety, depression. In this post, we are going to focus on the Eating Disorders (ED).

In Spain, some 400,000 people suffer from some type of eating disorder, according to data from the “Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute“. An eating disorder is a psychological disorder that affects food intake. People who suffer from it have a great concern about weight, body image and eating. The most recurring types of ED are the following.

  • Anorexia Nervosa that is characterized by caloric restriction, constant fear of gaining weight and feelings of body dissatisfaction.
  • Bulimia Nervosa is presented by episodes of binge eating, followed by compensatory behaviors to avoid weight gain.
  • Binge eating disorder (BED), is also characterized by episodes in which a large amount of food is ingested in a short period of time. Unlike the previous one, there are no compensatory behaviors.

Data and socio-digital context

As published by Dr. Aránzazu Fernández Rivas in 2021 (link in Spanish), before covid-19 the prevalence of eating disorders among adolescents and young adults, was around 6.2% in women and 0.3% in men. Currently these data have risen to 17.9% and 2.4% respectively, which is worrisome. Another alarming issue is that the fashion of the 2000s is being resumed, mainly characterized by extremely thin bodies, the questionable size 00, fairly low-waisted pants… This trend has just begun, being able to recognize the first changes in media referents like Bella Hadid, Kim Kardashian or the singer Dúa Lipa.

At the same time, we can find brands of cosmetics and products available to anyone that promote this behavior. There are even adolescents on social networking sites, advertising these products with the promise that their intake or application manages to reduce appetite, avoiding gaining weight.

But, why are we more concerned about losing weight when summer approaches? Is it because of the increase in advertisements for diet products as the good weather arrives? And what about holidays like Christmas? Why don’t we see any ads of this type? Is there an effective policy that regulates the advertising we are exposed to, or is it up to individual responsibility?

The sum of all these factors can result in a greater increase in the prevalence of EDs in adolescents or youth. Also adults and children are affected, strongly influenced by the current trend, as would happen with the Millennials growing up in the 2000s.

How can we intervene in this problem?

Many of the people who suffer from an eating disorder need to be admitted to the hospital. Often, by the time the disorder is diagnosed, it is quite advanced. Given the seriousness of the situation, the hospital will help to take the first steps towards acceptance and recovery.

How can we prevent this?

Some of the protective factors that would help prevent this disorder is the work on issues such as self-esteem, self-concept, and social skills from the classroom, since children and adolescents spend a lot of time in educational centers. On the other hand, if there were more effective policies that regulate the ads that are consumed, children and adolescents would be more protected. There are some, but the data associated with EDs show that they are ineffective.

Can we avoid these disorders?

Avoiding the appearance of an ED is extremely complicated since we are continuously exposed to stimuli that damage and undermine self-esteem, either through social networks seeing the people we follow, not receiving enough “likes” that we wish to have or reading the comments on these photos… Even going shopping, each store sizes differently and has few specific sizes, so if you don’t have a “normative” body, it’s very difficult to find clothes that you like and that fit you well.

Despite the worrying trend, the appearance of eating disorders can be prevented by carrying out previous work together with those affected and their families, dealing with issues such as:

  • Strengthen self-esteem and self-concept.
  • Increase social skills.
  • Understand positive parenting.
  • Improve proactive communication models.
  • Maintain a balanced diet, without good or bad foods.
  • Carry out a responsible consumption of the media and social networks

“Oppositions of mind and body, soul and matter, spirit and flesh all have their origin, fundamentally, in fear of what life may bring forth”. – John Dewey

Author: Naiara Casanueva Manrique

Add Comment