Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders

September 6, 1985

Report Outline
New Public Awareness
Quest for Understanding
Treating the Disorders
Special Focus

New Public Awareness

Self-Starvation as Baffling Way of Life

Eating disorders are a label for a variety of conditions that focus on a person's inability to deal rationally with food. They are different from food allergies or sensitivities, because it is believed the problem is not with the food itself but the mindset of the person. Irrationality regarding food is no longer looked on just in terms of obesity and an inability to control intake. In recent years attention has been drawn to anorexia nervosa and bulimia, eating disorders that center on self-induced weight control, sometimes to the point of starvation. While obesity has always been considered a problem of willpower, anorexia and bulimia are generally viewed as psychological in nature, fueled by an obsession of as-yet-undetermined origin that goes beyond the scope of willpower as we know it.

Anorexia nervosa, often termed the starving disease, has entered the public's awareness only in the last 10 years, and bulimia even more recently. Individuals with anorexia can become so obsessed with thinness they may starve themselves to death. Originally it was thought to be a rich girl's disease that affected only adolescent, white girls. But anorexia victims have been detected from ages 8 to 80, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), and a study indicates that up to 10 percent of them are males. Bulimia is identified by its binge/purge eating cycle, which in its extreme form can also lead to death. Persons gorge themselves and promptly vomit the food or use laxatives and diuretics to pass it quickly through the bowels before much of it can be absorbed into the body. Bulimia, especially, is reported with growing frequency on college campuses.

Just how many people suffer from these eating disorders is not known. Most victims are able to keep their condition hidden until it gets to an acute stage. Mortality figures on eating disorders are also sketchy at best. Medically, neither anorexia nor bulimia is classified as a cause of death. Death might be attributed to cardiac arrest even though the heart had been weakened by an eating disorder. However, the public has learned more about these disorders as more people have come forward to say they suffered from them. Cherry Boone O'Neill, singer Pat Boone's daughter, brought her personal struggle with anorexia to public attention in 1982 when she wrote the book Starving for Attention. Actress Jane Fonda recently made public her 12-year struggle as a bulimic. But the truly devastating effects of this kind of disorder surfaced when 32-year-old pop singer Karen Carpenter died of a heart attack on Feb. 4, 1982, after a two-year battle with anorexia.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Oct. 30, 2015  Dietary Supplements
Aug. 08, 2014  Global Hunger
Oct. 01, 2010  Preventing Obesity
Apr. 07, 2006  Rising Health Costs
Feb. 10, 2006  Eating Disorders Updated
Sep. 03, 2004  Dietary Supplements
Jan. 31, 2003  Obesity Epidemic
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Sep. 26, 1997  Youth Fitness
Apr. 14, 1995  Dieting and Health
Jul. 08, 1994  Dietary Supplements
Dec. 18, 1992  Eating Disorders
Nov. 06, 1992  Physical Fitness
Jul. 31, 1992  Infant Mortality
Oct. 25, 1991  World Hunger
Mar. 16, 1990  Public-Health Campaigns: Do They Go Too Far?
Apr. 29, 1988  How America Eats
Sep. 06, 1985  Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders
May 18, 1984  Dining in America
Aug. 26, 1983  Staying Healthy
Nov. 19, 1982  Weight Control: A National Obsession
Oct. 17, 1980  Caffeine Controversy
Apr. 14, 1978  Physical Fitness Boom
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Feb. 22, 1974  Heart Research
Aug. 01, 1973  Nutrition in America
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Nov. 15, 1967  Overweight and Health
Aug. 10, 1966  Dental Health
Jul. 13, 1966  Prolongation of Life
May 09, 1962  Outdoor Recreation
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