Education needed on eating disorders

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am


British researchers have called on governments to consider meddling in modelling agencies and magazines to stop the use of skinny women on fashion catwalks and photo spreads because it encourages anorexia and other eating disorders among weight-conscious women. That is going a bit far, but evidence does continue to build that there is a need for more effective education of young people about the importance of balanced diets and exercise to their future health.

The latest research is to be found in a Hong Kong study by a Queen Mary Hospital doctor that shows the proportion of local women aged 20 to 29 who are underweight has nearly doubled over the past 15 years. This subjects them to the risk of developing osteoporosis, a deficiency of bone tissue and density that leaves sufferers prone to fractures and postural problems. Dr Annie Kung Wai-chee found 40 per cent of women in a 2005-2010 study had a body mass index of less than 18.5 as measured by the World Health Organisation, the bottom end of a normal healthy range. In the first economic analysis of anorexia, researchers at the London School of Economics, who studied 3,000 young women across Europe, found that the social and cultural environment - such as the mass circulation of images of emaciated models and celebrities - influences young women to starve themselves in search of what they perceive to be the ideal body shape. It's a finding that has been well documented anecdotally.

Ironically, concern about increasing rates of obesity among young people, and the link to diabetes and heart disease later in life, plays into the hands of a poorly regulated slimming industry and reinforces insecurities among vulnerable young women. The key in the battle against both these modern scourges is education. The government, the health sector and educators must redouble their efforts to get the message across. A society with an ageing population cannot afford to store up future health problems among young people upon whom it will depend in the future.