Community Influence on Eating Disorders

One aspect of eating disorders I don't write about frequently is the influence of community. Where someone lives and the general expectations and norms for the community have a significant influence on how someone's eating disorder manifests. 

In some communities, a person's value is largely dependent on looking a certain way. Children will learn from parents and peers at a young age that body and looks are paramount for identity and confidence. In the concrete mind of a child or adolescent, these facts transform into black-and-white rules about living. Suddenly, the overvalued ideal of weight and shape become the only important thing in a child's life. This situation opens the door to dieting and obsessive thoughts about food and weight, a significant risk factor for an eating disorder. 

Some communities take this ideal to an extreme. For example, many adolescents or young adults discuss learning how to purge food as a rite of passage. Children openly discuss and teach each other the tricks. In others, Adderall is widely available and shared among all peers as a way to enhance studying and inevitably curb appetite. 

The openness around these dangerous activities among those susceptible to eating disorders is very risky. Some people are at much higher risk for eating disorders based on genetic predisposition and emotional vulnerabilities. However, simply living in these communities increases the risk of an eating disorder based on the accepted and taught practices and overvaluation of weight and food. 

The underlying fix for this distortion is through education, but the difficulty is the means of education that will get through to an age group programmed to feel invincible. Seeing the effects of these destructive behaviors going haywire on peers can have an impact, especially when those peers are only a few years older. Shifting the ever changing sense of what is cool to this impressionable age is just as effective. Focusing on trends for eating locally or body positive movements can energize a new trend quickly in susceptible ages. 

The issue is to raise awareness of these risks in communities where the incidence of eating disorders is high. Doing so can trigger a backlash against the norms and start to change behaviors.

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