Get Healthy: This week is Eating Disorders Awareness week

This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.

Every day, we as consumers are bombarded with media images that portray a standard of beauty which tells us we need to look a certain way. As we stand in the checkout line, we are faced with tabloid covers featuring the stars’ “bikini bodies” and “amazing” weight loss secrets of celebrities. When we turn on the TV, commercials featuring svelte, impossibly thin women sell everything from cheeseburgers to automobiles. On the surface, it all looks so glamorous, but what message is the media really sending?

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness week, and it’s time to draw attention to this important public health concern. Eating disorders — such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder — are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect both a person’s emotional and physical health. In the United States alone, 30 million people will be impacted by an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. Eating disorders can include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. These conditions affect all kinds of people and don’t discriminate by race, age, sex, age or size.

While anyone can be affected by an eating disorder, young girls are particularly at risk. In a recent survey of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69 percent say the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape; 47 percent say the pictures make them want to lose weight. Not only can this kind of thinking lead to poor body image and low self-esteem, it can contribute to potentially life-threatening illness. Instead of focusing on losing weight, wouldn’t it be wonderful to send a message to girls it’s great to look healthy, not just thin?

Media is not the sole cause of eating disorders. They are caused by complex biological, psychological and social forces that combine to ignite the onset of an illness. However, by choosing to show images of fit, healthy bodies; by choosing to share stories of people who choose healthy balanced diets, we can change the conversation from “I want to be thin” to “I want to be strong and healthy.” Let’s all play our part by setting a good example for young people about what healthy, happy lifestyles really look like.

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