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Is Anorexia a Cultural Disease?

October 19, 2012

Is Anorexia a Cultural Disease?

                Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by food restriction and the irrational fear of gaining weight; along with a distorted body image and perception.  This article discusses whether an individual develops this is an illness due to the cultural environment the individual is in or a genetic problem within the individual’s family. Also it is narrated from a lady that suffers from anorexia and has developed a research base on what causes anorexia.

                Suffering from her latest episode of life-threatening anorexia, the anonymous author lays in her hospital bed hooked up to numerous life saving IVs she thinks about her issues with anorexia. The countless times she has craned her neck to look at whether her butt has changed, the ridiculous amount of pinching her thighs and arms to see if they remained little, or all the mirrors she looked at to observe her image. When she thought in depth about what changed this she didn’t blame it on the grotesquely skinny models, Vanity Fair, or photo shopped magazines and movies because she regularly didn’t see these. It was her link to her severe depression and anxiety.

                Chronic anorexia takes 1/5 of its victims. That makes it the highest mortality rate among mental illnesses. Roughly 1/3 of its sufferers will recover, but soon become sick and relapse from treatment. Treatment is very ineffective because patients will stop going and still suffer from all of the side effects of relapse and their mental illness. Also 4.4 percent of Americans suffer from anorexia that it nearly 13.3 million people and with national funding the help for people that suffer from anorexia is just $2 per person. Research and development for treatments for anorexia besides counseling, institutionalizing, and psychotherapy is nearly impossible with this amount of funding. This is causing a large amount of mortality victims and even more people being over-looked with this mental illness.

                Anorexia nervosa: cultural or biological? I have always viewed the distorted body images as a mental illness that has been caused by the overly skinny models or the photo shopped ads that make it into magazines that our youth and population. Also skinny and unrealistically perfect are considered pretty in society. In a 2000 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, it showed that 60 percent (and up to 85 percent) of a person’s risk for anorexia was due to genetics and a follow up study showed that 5 percent develop it from shared environments (magazines, models, etc.) An interesting thing that was stated in the article is during this research, they showed a link of 35 percent of cases we caused a biological reaction to step-throat. Also there are several historical examples in the Middle-Ages called the “starving-saints” and in rural Africa and Amish communities.      

                With all of the statistics and evidence I think that the main cause of this article was to bring awareness to the non-sociological aspect to anorexia and that it can be caused by genetics and biological issues. The anonymous author shows a personal experience and her cause for the anorexia and how she can’t blame it on the cultural aspects because she had no involvement with them. So is it Cultural or biological anorexia nervosa? You choose.

Kailie Ikard

Wikipedia for definition of anorexia




3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2012 11:14 pm

    This blog post makes me think of a study I heard of once in a previous class about a secluded tribe in Africa. This study stated that researchers went to this tribe and found that there were no incidences of eating disorders. The researchers then introduced a television to the tribe and came back a few months later to see the affects this had on the tribe and its people. The researchers actually found that, after being exposed to the television, women in the tribe began to suffer from eating disorders (I wish I could remember the exact statistics but I heard this a while ago). Anyways, I always remembered that study because of how obvious it made it seem that anorexia was an environmental, and even cultural, disease. However, maybe because our society is prone to mental health disorders, eating disorders becomes a consequence of that? I’m not sure, just food for thought! -Sarah McGee

  2. October 26, 2012 1:13 am

    I actually work at an eating disorder residential treatment facility so I can relate a lot to this blog post. The question you are asking is definitely an interesting one and is difficult to answer. In my opinion, I can see how eating disorders could be both biologically and culturally caused. One thing that I have learned from working at this treatment facility is that people with eating disorders tend to be extremely sensitive to the messages they receive (or interpret) from other people. For example, you and I may see a commercial on TV for a diet pill and not think anything of it, but someone with an eating disorder may interpret this as a message that they are overweight. I think that sort of shows how eating disorders could be both culturally and biologically caused because the commercial on TV is providing them with a message but they may also be biologically predisposed to more sensitive reactions. I also think that eating disorders can often times be a result of the way someone was raised and the environment they were living in (whether that be a mom with an eating disorder or being sexually abused by a dad). More often than not, clients that come to this facility have experienced some sort of traumatic experience in their life as some point. Like I said though, it is a really hard question to answer! I feel like it could definitely be a combination of many different things.

    Melissa Peterson

  3. November 2, 2012 2:47 pm

    Can you post the link to this article? I loved your post; it was
    super interesting to read! I believe that people are born with a
    predisposition to develop an eating disorder, just as we discussed in
    class with many other disorders. But I think that it maybe takes a
    certain traumatic event, or loss of control in their lives to lead
    them to want to punish themselves, or regain control of one aspect of
    their lives. Thanks for your post!
    Anna Vendrasco

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