They are real. They are complex. They are devastating. And they are on the rise.

Eating disorders were long thought to be a problem found among young, white females. There was the occasional anomaly, but for the most part, it was young, white females who suffered from this condition.

Not anymore.

Equal Opportunity Disorder

There is mounting evidence that eating disorders are jumping cultural barriers and crossing gender barriers. Blacks and Hispanics are increasingly finding themselves using food as the “go-to quick fix” when faced with adversity in their lives.

Men are not immune to the disorder, either. The JAMA Pediatrics published results of a survey involving 5,527 teen males nationwide between 1999 and 2011. The startling results show 17.9 percent of these boys expressed concern about their physique. This put them at higher risk of engaging in dangerous behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse.

In June 2012, ABC News featured a report about clinicians across the country reporting a spike in women over 40 requiring treatment for eating disorders.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, as many as 70 million people, female and male, are suffering from eating disorders.

Consequences Can Be Fatal

Whether a person suffers from anorexia nervosa or morbid obesity is irrelevant when considered from an end-result point of view: either of these conditions can kill you.

There is more awareness of eating disorders and the consequences they can have. Unfortunately, it took tragedies like the death of beloved entertainer Karen Carpenter to bring it to the forefront of global awareness.

In a national survey by American Viewpoint in August 2010 for the National Eating Disorders Association, the results show an increasing public awareness of eating disorders.

  • 82 percent of people who responded believe that eating disorders are a mental and/or physical illness, and deserve appropriate treatment.
  • 85 percent held the opinion that insurance companies should cover eating disorders just as they do other illnesses.
  • 70 percent believe advertisers and media should portray more average sized people in their advertising campaigns; that doing so will help reduce or prevent eating disorders.

It Takes a Village

Girls start expressing concerns about their weight or body shape by age six. But there are many out there struggling with body dissatisfaction that is tilting into clinical disorders in eating behaviors and attitudes. They may or may not seek help on their own.

Those of us who love them must remain vigilant to spot problems when they begin to develop and urge the seeking of professional help when needed.

Eating disorders are real, they are complex, they are devastating and they are getting worse.