Obesity and Eating Disorders: Two Sides of the Same Coin
It is common knowledge that there is a mounting childhood obesity problem in America. Childhood obesity is a serious matter that has received nationwide attention and is being addressed in hopes that we can turn the epidemic around. Over the last three decades, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), obesity has more than tripled. In America, childhood obesity is usually attributed to a caloric imbalance – too many calories in and not enough calories expended, yet there is reason to believe that there may be other underlying reasons for the problem.
In America, childhood obesity is a major concern, however on the other side of the spectrum, we have many adolescents who are suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, and are starving themselves thin. It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder; 95% of those are between the ages of 12 and 25; 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight. Teenage girls especially, further influenced by the media and depictions of unrealistic body images, are often the victims of anorexia and bulimia.
Often seen as separate problems, experts believe obesity and eating disorders often coincide as a child trades one problem for the other. The child struggling with obesity is often already suffering from a different eating disorder – binge eating – as a coping method for anger, stress, depression, anxiety or other underlying issue. By only focusing on treating the obesity, and not addressing the underlying cause, the child may then fall prey to a different eating disorder. It is during this delicate period of adolescence that most cases of anorexia or bulimia transpire; a time when adolescents are struggling with many issues that are out of their control, they turn to food, diets, exercise, weight management, in an effort to find some control in their lives.
Fight Eating Disorders and Obesity With Healthy Habits
The best defense against eating disorders is to advocate healthy attitudes and behaviors toward eating and body image. Parents and adult caregivers should strive to be positive role models to children who often look up to them as they form their own attitudes about body image and eating. Adults need to be mindful of children’s emotional health as many times it is linked to the obesity or eating disorder problem. Discuss with children the negative media messages and distorted body images portrayed on television or in magazines. Focus on encouraging the child’s talents or abilities; stress the importance of their health and not their appearance.
Foster a positive and healthy relationship with food. Help children to recognize the difference between emotional eating and physiological hunger. Encourage children to stop eating when full and never force children to be required to finish everything on their plate. Try not to use food as a reward for accomplishing a goal or task. As often as possible, try to eat together as a family and use this time to bond and talk with your children, to get a sense of their relationship with food, to hone in on their moods and to get a feel for how they are doing.
Our children are our future. Obesity and eating disorders need to be addressed hand-in-hand. If we take action now and help foster positive attitudes in our children today, we can help ensure they take these healthy habits with them into adulthood. By dealing with the underlying reasons our youth are suffering from eating disorders, whether binge eating, anorexia or bulimia, we can hopefully find a solution to finally combat two birds with one stone, and guarantee our children the future they deserve.