Unhealthy phenomenon we can no longer avoid
In the 1990s, Western communities were locked in debate over the propriety of images in the media which seemed to glamorise models who looked unhealthily thin rather than radiantly beautiful. Being thin and having a decadent lifestyle became chic. Everywhere you looked, in cafes, pubs and on the streets, a stick-thin teenage girl would be smoking a cigarette, probably to dampen her appetite in order to skip a meal. Fortunately for Hong Kong, such images were not as pervasive here, and the combination of a love for good food and the importance of the daily family meal may have stopped the stick-thin look going mainstream. Chinese parents in particular pay great attention to the eating habits of their children, and rarely stop complaining that the children have not eaten enough.
However, recent studies indicate Hong Kong is not immune from the effects of this phenomenon, and that there is reason to be concerned about an increase in eating disorders among girls and young women. According to experts who have been researching this area, 20 years ago eating disorders mainly occurred in women suffering from clinical depression. But health professionals are now observing these conditions in children as young as eight years old, and the number of children being referred to nutrition specialists has been on the rise. At one clinic, the number of patients suffering from bulimia or anorexia has doubled in 20 years. As in Europe and America, the triggers appear to be fat phobia and body-image issues rather than clinical depression.
Indeed, while the Hong Kong media landscape has not been so saturated with images of anorexic-looking models as in the West, the message that to be beautiful one must be thin is pervasive in the city. Meanwhile, communication between parents and children may have become more difficult because of the distractions available on the internet.
Every family will have its own way of caring for children, but it is important to remember that every teenager is self-conscious about their appearance and therefore vulnerable to the onset of an eating disorder.