Advocates are currently marking the 14th annual National Eating Disorders Awareness Week to highlight the psychological and physical toll stemming from the disease. This year’s event, which stretches on until March 1, is focused on reaching the families and communities that may fail to realize how disordered eating is impacting the people they know and love. “Everybody knows somebody with an eating disorder,” the promotional materials for the awareness campaign point out. Here are five facts to keep in mind about the devastating impact of this issue:
1. Thirty million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, an estimated 20 million U.S. women and an additional 10 million U.S. men will struggle with a “clinically significant” eating disorder at some point in their life. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or what’s defined as an “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED). Although many Americans incorrectly assume that it’s easy to spot an eating disorder, the people who struggle with this condition can actually come in all types of shapes and sizes, and are typically adept at hiding their symptoms.
2. Anorexia is the most fatal mental health issue.
One out of every five people with anorexia eventually dies from causes related to the disease. The rates of suicide among people who suffer from eating disorders are higher than the rates among other psychiatric disorders, largely because anorexia is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. A 2003 study found that people with anorexia are 56 times more likely to take their own lives than people who don’t suffer from an eating disorder.
3. Disordered eating is on the rise among children.
Disordered eating is an issue that tends to manifests itself in children and young adults. A full 95 percent of the Americans who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25, and the majority of those people report that their unhealthy relationship with food began before they turned 20. Perhaps partly because of the unrealistic body images that are persistently marketed toward kids, this issue is getting worse. According to a recent study, hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 years old increased by a staggering 119 percent between 1999 and 2006. Eighty percent of U.S. girls say they’ve been on a diet.
4. Eating disorder patients often lack sufficient health coverage.
Despite the fact that disordered eating impacts millions of Americans’ lives, and early intervention has been proven to be an effective method of treating the condition, people who struggle with anorexia or bulimia often can’t get the medical care they need. Just one in ten eating disorder patients typically receives treatment. That’s often because eating disorders are difficult to diagnose and insurers don’t always cover the wide range of mental health treatments that can be necessary to address them. Some states have taken their own steps to expand coverage for eating disorders, which isn’t considered to be an “essential benefit” under Obamacare’s new exchanges. Fortunately, though, the health reform law does prevent insurers from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions, which includes eating disorders.
5. The government doesn’t designate much funding toward eating disorder research.
“Eating disorders are complicated and vexing problems and we don’t exactly understand the pathophysiology of them. Certainly there is both a genetic component and an environmental component,” Dr. Aaron Krasner, a practicing psychiatrist, explained to Forbes this week. Some eating disorder prevention advocates argue that’s because there isn’t enough funding designated for research in this area. The National Institute of Health (NIH) allocates just 93 cents in research funding per affected eating disorder patient, compared to $88 per affected autism patient and $81 per affected schizophrenia patient. Figuring out how to address eating disorders would be in the government’s best interest, though — one study estimated that hospital costs associated with anorexia and bulimia can top $271 million annually.