Just like their victims, eating disorders come in many different forms. They are not a fad or trendy, and they are never something to be taken lightly. 13.1% of all deaths in the U.S, are from some sort of eating disorder. Traditionally, when people think of eating disorders, the first things that come to mind are Anorexia and Bulimia, and they are by far the most deadly. According to the Mayo Clinic staff, an eating disorder is a group of serious conditions in which a person is so preoccupied with food and weight that they can often focus on little else. Teenagers need to be aware of the causes, warning signs, risk factors, and long and short-term effects of eating disorders. There is no clear cause of eating disorders, but they can be a result of many factors. Gender, age, and family history all may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Other key factors may also include emotional disorders, dieting, life transitions, and various sports and work activities. First and foremost is the media. A little girl can’t open a book or magazine, turn on the television or even look in her toy box without being subjected to images of seemingly unachievable perfection. “Thin is in” is everywhere we look. Sociocultural norms cause pressure from friends, family and peers to be thin as well as causing the person to develop unwavering “black or white” thinking that fat is bad and thin is good. A study of one teen adolescent magazine over the course of 20 years found that in articles about fitness or exercise plans, 74% cited “to become more attractive” as a reason to start exercising and 51% noted the need to lose weight or burn calories (Guillen & Barr, 1994).
The media doesn’t involve just the reading materials and the television ads our kids see daily. Take a look at the toys little girls play with and see how this image reflects on their absorbent minds. Barbie is a prime example. As a real woman she would be 5’9” with a 38” bust, have an 18” waist, 33” hips and would wear a size 3 shoe. Slumber Party Barbie was introduced in 1965 and came with a bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs. with a book entitled “How to Lose Weight” with directions inside stating simply “Don’t eat.” Over the years Barbie has maintained her goal weight of 110 lbs., which would give her a BMI of 16.24, and with these stats, Barbie would be considered anorexic. She is the fantasy heroine for girls ages 3-12 and on average, they will own seven different versions of her during their childhood. The unrealistic images of perfection portrayed by the media can only be blamed so much for the poor self-image and rampant dieting in today’s society. There are psychological factors such as low self-esteem, comfort food (use of food as a way of coping with negative emotions), over-possessive parents who shun expressing emotions, and a history of sexual abuse. Inside a fragile and impressionable mind, self-image is a fact. A young girl will look in the mirror and see what she believes and believe what she sees. It is a vicious downward spiral that leads nowhere. Genetics also play a factor in the development of eating disorders. A genetic predisposition to anorexia or bulimia, depression or anxiety can cause a greater possibility of developing a disorder. People with an obsessive-compulsive personality type are more likely to develop eating disorders due to the obsessive focus on calorie counting and staying thin. It is also believed that the presence of excess or too little amounts of serotonin are key in the development of eating disorders. Lower levels of serotonin contribute to a person's sense of depression, and in theory, are increased during episodes of binging, making the person actually feel better. Binging on sweets, starches or carbohydrates would increase serotonin and produce a sense of well-being. The opposite would be true in correlation with self-starvation or deprivation. If excess serotonin is