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Anorexia Nervosa as a Life-Threatening Disorder

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Anorexia Nervosa as a Life-Threatening Disorder

Anorexia Nervosa As a Life-Threatening Disorder

Anorexia Nervosa is a disease that should not be handled lightly. While in our nation, it is not as publicized as other diseases such as cancer or heart disease, it does take lives everyday due to people having a distorted self-image. Many people in the medicinal field have come to various conclusions about the cause of anorexia and it’s effects on a person physiologically and psychologically. Some argue that it is strictly a socio-cultural influence that causes the onset of the disease, while others debate a biological influence. While I do not discredit any of this information, I strongly believe that it is a combination of many things that cause a person, particularly teenage girls to acquire an eating disorder.

In order to get a full understanding of how an eating disorder can be damaging to the human body, a definition of the disorder needs to be clarified. Anorexia Nervosa, is classified as an eating disorder according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Anorexia can coexist with Bulimia Nervosa, and according to the APA, there are two types of anorexia; a restricting type which is strictly a refusal to maintain body weight and does not include binging and purging, and the second type is binge eating/purging type where bulimia is included as well (APA, 2000).

Anorexia is defined as an “eating disorder characterized by a refusal to maintain a minimally normal body weight and a distortion in perception of body shape and weight” (Whitney, 310). An means without (Whitney, 310). Bulimia Nervosa on the other hand is described as “an eating disorder characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating usually followed by self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, or excessive exercise” (Whitney, 310). Anorexia affects five million people in the United States, the majority of them being girls and young women (Whitney, 310). While many sources claim that anorexia is caused by one reason or another, this book agrees that the causes are multi-faceted and include socio-cultural, psychological and possibly neuro-chemical factors (Whitney, 310). According to a study by KS Kendler from Richmond, Virginia, risk factors for anorexia include being born after 1960, low parental care, a history of dieting, weight fluctuation or excessive exercise, low self-esteem, slim ideal body image and an external locus of control (Kendler, 1628). Being born after 1960 is extremely trivial considering eating disorders are a relatively recent phenomena. History does not give any explanation to why one would develop an eating disorder because in ancient Greek and Roman cultures, having curves was a sign of wealth and beauty ( Bruch, 245).

There is strong evidence to suggest that the onset of anorexia can occur chemically in the brain. S. Grinspoon who does research at the Massachusetts General Hospital did research to determine if septum leptin levels in the brain were lower in subjects who had been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Septum leptin is a protein in the brain that is responsible for regulating body behaviors through neuroendocrine processes (Grinspoon, 1996). For each patient weight, age, caloric intake, body mass index (BMI), and body fat percentage were all taken into account. It was proven through this study that there is a strong correlation between weight and septum leptin levels. They correlated mostly with BMI and body fat percentage with the values being .55 and .44 respectively (Grinspoon, 1996). While this information is clearly legitimate and does take into account the biological perspective in relation to anorexia, there are other factors that influence its onset as well. Influences from the media and significant people in one’s life can trigger an eating disorder as well.

The fact that anorexia is a disease that does not have a cure or a drug that can be prescribed to cure it leads me to the conclusion that it is indeed a multi-faceted health problem. Along with a biological cause, there comes a socio-cultural one as well. It is nothing new that in American culture, being thin is more socially acceptable then being obese. Extreme thinness is advertised in this country everyday in various forms on a daily basis throughout one’s life. A study done by Alison Field for the medical journal, Pediatrics highlights the influence of the media on girls from fifth grade to seniors. The research was based on a survey given to the girls that had questions about their body weight, problems they felt they would like to change with their bodies, how exposed they were to fashion magazines and whether or not they have ever attempted a diet due to exposure to the magazines (Field, 1999). The study found that sixty-nine percent of the girls reported that looking at females in fashion magazines

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