Eating disorders are illnesses recognised by unhealthy eating habits coupled by a negative mindset on body weight and shape (Ekern, 2018). Eating disorders can be developed at any point in one’s life but most reported cases are among teenagers and young adults. Although eating disorders are treatable, the effects an individual may suffer are extremely serious and can even be deadly (aware, 2017 ; Ekern, 2018). Despite that, eating disorders are often mistaken to be other mental illnesses and often go unnoticed. This paper aims for readers to gain further insight on eating disorders and the importance of reducing the rising statistics of such cases. It will cover the reasons for the development of eating disorders, effects on an individual, their loved ones and the economy and support from specialised organisations in Singapore. By discussing how eating disorders can affect people, it views the topic from sociological, psychological and economical perspectives.
Like any other mental illness, eating disorders are very complex and multi-layered. It is believed that eating disorders can develop due to many reasons (aware, 2017). Although more research needs to be done, it is concluded that eating disorders develop due to 3 main factors: biological, psychological and environmental (Ekern, 2018).
Biological factors are basically physical factors like irregular hormone function, genetics and nutrition deficiencies (Ekern, 2018). Although these factors are still being heavily researched on, it has been confirmed that they affect one’s eating patterns (Ekern, 2018).
Psychological factors are factors that affect thought processes and actions. This includes poor self-esteem, obsessive compulsiveness and negative body image. As eating disorders are mental illnesses, the individual’s psychological well-being plays a large role (The Butterfly Foundation, 2018). Eating disorders are often misdiagnosed since they usually come with other mental illnesses, increasing the severity of the individual’s condition (Rust, 2011).
Environmental factors are external influences of an individual’s life. Some factors include peer pressure, media influences and exposure to aesthetically oriented sports (Ekern, 2018). Although these factors are commonly seen in everyone’s daily lives, they have differing impacts on different people. Peer pressure is often present when people subconsciously deliver messages that imply that beauty means to look thin, increasing the rate of development of eating disorders. Exposure to the media in this generation is very common and its obsession with promoting thin females and muscular males as the “perfect body” causes individuals to develop unrealistic body goals for themselves, which can develop eating disorders. In 1998, a research was done in rural Fiji to document responses among teenagers after being introduced to the media. This exposure resulted in symptoms of eating disorders like purging, refusal to eat and obsession of food (Ekern, 2017). Aesthetically oriented sports are sports that emphasize on having a lean body for the best results, like ballet and gymnastics. Although having a lean body is healthy, these sports commonly have “thinness-related learning”, where athletes are body-shamed and constantly compared or weighed. This can cause them to develop an unhealthy obsession with being skinny (Ekern, 2013).
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that are more than what meets the eye and are able to impact the world on a large scale. Eating disorders can affect not only the individual, but also affect the people around them and also the economy.
Individuals will suffer from physical and mental health problems, although the effects on everyone are different. Physically, individuals will notice a change in their cardiovascular, integumentary and digestive systems. Their emotional welfare will also be impacted significantly and other mental illnesses can develop (Jade, 2009). The individual will lack energy to concentrate and think rationally, affecting their work and school (Rust, 2011).
The individual’s change in emotions and thought process will have a great impact on their behaviour, which will affect their relationships with other people (Jade, 2009). The change in personality will cause their social pattern to be altered, fracturing their relationships with others. The people around them will always have to be extra mindful on food-related topics and will also feel tired out from the individual’s constant negativity (the lowdown, n.d).
An individual’s lack of energy to concentrate and think rationally can cause problems in their respective occupations and academics (Rust, 2011). As proven by a research done in the span of 5 years from the U.S Medical Expenditures Panel Survey, individuals with eating disorders have higher annual healthcare costs but significantly lower annual income and employment rates (Samnaliev, 2014). This can pose a great problem for a country’s economy as more resources and money are used on treating people instead of boosting the economy. As the individuals have lower income but higher expenses, the cost of health is magnified and this poses a higher threat to their financial well-being (Ekern, 2017).
Although eating disorders can be deadly, they do not have to be if addressed properly. In Singapore, there are many specific organisations to support individuals with eating disorders. These include Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Eating Disorder Programme, Association of Women for Action and Research Eating Disorders and also Singapore Association of Mental Health’s Support for Eating Disorders Singapore (aware, 2018).
This paper emphasises on the reasons for the development and effects of eating disorders and also touched on some organisations in Singapore that aim to help individuals recover. Despite having support from the government, the SGH Eating Disorders Programme still saw 170 new patients in 2015, which is four times the number of patients when the programme first started in 2003 with 40 patients and 42 percent more than the 120 new patients in 2010 (Tan, 2016). The amount of people suffering from eating disorders continues to increase at an alarming rate despite the government’s efforts. I believe this is due to the lack of knowledge on eating disorders in the society. As researched, environmental factors play a huge role in the development of eating disorders. Since the society is not very knowledgeable on the topic, people act and speak carelessly, not knowing the impact of such actions and words. Hence, it is important for the society to be educated on mental illnesses in general. Schools can do assembly talks on similar topics so students can gain further insight and develop the habit of being mindful of what they say. Since habits should be developed at the young age, this can ensure that the students will grow up to be more mindful and teach the next generation the same. Another group who can help to prevent eating disorders from happening is the parents. Since they have the largest influence over a child, they can ensure a child does not develop a negative body image and an unhealthy obsession with food by lessening their exposure to the media and boosting their self-confidence. If everyone does their part in the different aspects stated above, the rate of development of eating disorders will definitely drop.
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