Sunday, June 24, 2007

One in 10 young girls are prone to eating disorders

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Walk into any urban campus and there will be hordes of young girls who are slim and dressed in clothes that reveal their figure. Being thin is in and many are dying to be thin. They want to emulate weight-conscious celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
And this is one of the reasons for a rising problem among young females - eating disorder. About 70% of them are not satisfied with the shape - and size - of their bodies.
In a study conducted by chartered psychologist Dr Hera Lukman, it was revealed that about one in 10 young urban female college students is prone to eating disorders in their quest for a perfect body shape.
Dr Lukman, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine at the International Medical University’s (IMU) Community Medicine and Behavioural Sciences Section, conducted the recent survey among 578 female college students aged between 18 and 25 in the Klang Valley.
Although there are signs that this problem is on the rise, there has been no study to determine the number, as those suffering from the problem rarely seek help voluntarily.
Nevertheless, Dr Lukman said studies have shown that the prevalence of eating disorders in Asian countries was comparable to that in the West, where between 1% and 4% of girls aged between 14 and 18 have an eating disorder.
In Singapore, a National University of Singapore’s (NUS) study of 4,400 female students in 2005 also showed that 7% of them were found to be at high risk of disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
Penang Hospital’s child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Lai Fong Hwa said there was a six-fold increase in the incidence of eating disorders in Singapore in the last 10 years.
On her survey, Dr Lukman said those affected were usually terrified of gaining weight though they were underweight or emaciated.
“The students in my survey had, among others, displayed behaviour, attitude and thoughts which were associated with eating disorders. Only 28% of them were satisfied with the shape of their bodies,” she said in an interview.
The two most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa (when one engages in self-induced food restrictions and excessive exercise although underweight) and bulimia nervosa (uncontrollable overeating or bingeing, followed by self-induced vomiting and purging via the use of laxatives). The medical fraternity usually terms them as a “complex psychological problem” with “possible indirect links” with the environment.
Dr Lukman said interviews with some of the respondents revealed that they would induce vomiting after eating. Some of them would feel guilty about eating and subsequently resort to eating in isolation or “secretive eating”.
Dr Lukman added that eating disorders were chronic conditions with devastating physical, psychological and social consequences when not given immediate attention and multi-disciplinary approach treatment by experts like physicians, psychiatrists, dieticians and family therapists.
The dangers of eating disorders usually make headlines when a celebrity or prominent figure dies from it. In November last year, Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, 21, was reported to have died of anorexia nervosa. She was 1.74m tall and weighed only 40kg when she died. Many Tinseltown celebrities like Nicole Richie and Mary-Kate Olsen are constantly under the media glare for losing weight and looking unhealthily thin.
On treatment for eating disorders, Dr Lukman said Malaysia has yet to have a centre for such patients and she had to refer her patients for treatment overseas, with the nearest centre in Singapore. There was dire need for such a centre to provide proper and affordable treatment for eating disorders and conduct more in-depth research on the problem.
She said patients could not seek treatment overseas due to the high costs incurred.
Dr Lai said it costs about RM1,000 a day for an eating disorder patient to get treatment in Singapore. The high cost of treatment was because of the number of professionals involved in the care.
“If Malaysia were to set up an eating disorder centre, treatment would still cost a few hundred ringgit a day, although patients who seek help at government hospitals at the moment are treated free,” he said.
“The problem in Malaysia may not be as serious (compared to Singapore), but I am seeing and hearing of more such cases these days,” he said.
She said it was also difficult to identify a person with eating disorders, especially Asians, because the females tend to be thinner and have a smaller frame.
Countries where eating disorders are common include Japan, South Korea, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Pakistan, Egypt and Israel, she added.
Dr Lukman said eating disorders are more common among females than males. For every 10 to 20 females with eating disorders, there would be one male with similar problem.

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