Wednesday, November 26, 2008

10 things every parent should know about eating disorders

I don’t know anything harder than not snacking between meals. I love food. Sometimes I wonder if I am to food the way that an alcoholic is to beer.

My own perennial battle of the bulge has gotten me thinking about how high school students cope with body image and the pressure to be thin.

As many readers know, I teach at Boyer Valley high school in Dunlap and I’ve also coached cheerleading for more than 10 years. In all that time, there may have been girls who struggled with eating disorders, but I was unaware of it. This year several kids have joked, threatened, talked about as if it were a viable option, and even bragged about either starving themselves (anorexia) or making themselves throw-up (bulimia).

Fortunately, it’s often not genuine. Either it’s a plea for attention, a typically teenage penchant for melodrama, or a sad but not serious way to whine about their weight. When girls really do succumb to these disorders, there are hospitalization programs and counseling.

But as a father of three young girls, I became very concerned. What will it be like for them when they get to junior high and high school? So I did a little research and want to share ten things every dad should know about eating disorders. These are just as important for moms and grandparents too.

1. Did you realize that our body size is pretty much a given, just like our height or hair color? In spite of that, by junior high 30-50% of American girls say they feel too fat and 20-40% are already dieting before they’re even 10 years old. By high school, 40-60% of girls feel overweight and try to lose.

2. As someone who grew up under a fear that the Soviet Union would bomb us into nuclear winter, this one surprised me; many girls say that they are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of cancer, nuclear war, or even losing their parents.

3. The fashion models weigh 23% less than the average woman.

4. Most people who develop eating disorders, start during adolescence. While self-esteem for both girls and boys is strong as children and drops for both in adolescence, the drop is much steeper for girls, beginning around age of 12.

5. In a survey of working-class 5th to 12th grade suburban girls, nearly 70% percent reported that magazine pictures influence their idea of the perfect body; 47% reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.

6. Before puberty there’s no difference in depression rates between boys and girls. By age 15, girls are twice as likely to be depressed and 10 times as likely to develop an eating disorder than boys. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide than boys are, although boys are more likely to succeed.

7. Clinique Laboratories, Inc. surveyed 500 moms of teen daughters and found their number one New Year’s Resolutions was "lose weight/eat less". Yet 22% of these same mothers list the fear of their daughter developing an eating disorder among their top concerns. Only 16% of the 500 teens in the same survey worried about developing an eating disorder.

8. Anecdotal evidence suggests that comments from male family members trigger dieting, and teasing is associated with weight-control attempts in adolescence. I can’t imagine making fun of my girls for being fat or calling them names, but there are parents that do just that. Maybe they do it because they’re worried about them and hope to motivate them to eat less, but what it does is hurt them deeply.

9. According to data presented to the National Institutes of Health, 33-40% of adult women are trying to lose weight at any given time –fueled by a cultural perception of a feminine "ideal" that is actually much too thin for good health.

10. And finally, we dads are important. Statistics show that girls with dads who spend time with them and really try to be part of their lives are more ambitious, more successful in school, attend college more frequently, and are more likely to attain careers of their own. They also are less dependent, more self-protective, and less likely to date or marry abusive partners.

You can find out more from the International Eating Disorder Referral Organization.

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