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Students Participate in National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

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Gaining the dreaded Freshman 15 is a legitimate concern of countless young adults as they head to college—it’s pretty easy to pack on a few pounds when you’ve got late-night pizza delivery and all-you-can-eat dessert bars at your disposal. Eating is a great stress reliever.

The everyday stresses of college can also lead to skipping meals or starving yourself, binging and purging, compulsive exercising, and other food-related issues— college students aren’t immune to eating disorders. February 20-26, 2011 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and colleges across the country are encouraging students to talk about the issue.

Stress and New Surroundings can Lead to Body-Image Issues and Eating Disorders

According to University of Rochester Medical Center professor Dr. Richard Kreipe, a specialist in adolescent medicine whose research centers on eating disorders, college students are vulnerable to weight gain and eating disorders—often at the same time—because they usually experience a loss of structure when they leap from high school to college. Studies have found that college students are likely to skip breakfast (and other meals) while snack foods account for a lot of forgotten calories. All-you-can-eat dining halls and easy access to alcohol also make students susceptible to weight gain, and anxiety about gaining weight in the first place can also trigger an eating disorder. Being in a new setting surrounded by new people make it easy to develop body-image issues, which can also lead to disordered eating, reports Newsweek.

The Freshman 15 is a longstanding joke, but the American College Health Association’s annual surveys have found that the number of college students dieting, vomiting, or taking laxatives to lose weight has increased from about 28 to 38% since 2000, Newsweek explains. Researchers have also learned that over 30% of college students fall into the American College Health Association’s overweight or obese categories.

College Athletes and Eating Disorders

Even college athletes, who usually seem like the picture of perfect health, aren’t immune to the serious problem of eating disorders. It’s easy to hide the destructive behavior when you’re “in shape.” According to the Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper of the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the National Eating Disorder Awareness Association reported that a study of Division I NCAA female athletes found that more than a third of the athletes in the study reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa.

A 2010 study conducted by Toni Torres-McGehee, an assistant professor of athletic training at the University of South Carolina, found that one third of the 136 Division I and Division II cheerleaders polled were “at risk” for eating disorders, while cheerleaders on teams with uniforms that bared the midriff were at highest risk and more likely to have eating disorders.

Constantly Striving for Perfection Puts Students at Risk

Over 50% of the Princeton University undergraduate students who participated in a 2004 survey reported feeling “at least a little overweight,” even though a quick glance around the campus would be enough for most people to realize that the majority of Princeton residents are actually pretty thin.

Why the distorted self-images?

Society emphasizes the importance of physical appearance for success, which is a goal that most college students strive for. Perfectionism, self-discipline and many other qualities which helped students receive admission to Princeton in the first place are also risk factors for eating disorders. Researchers estimate that eating disorders affect 1-2% of the general population while up to 30% of students experience eating disorder symptoms during their college years.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week on Campus

Organized by the National Eating Disorders Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is being observed this week—February 20 through 26, 2011.

The group is urging people to realize that “It’s Time to Talk about It” and learn about the dangers of eating disorders. Colleges and universities across the country are holding events to educate students.

Hamilton College in Clinton, New York is just one of many schools spreading the word. Hamilton students participated in a “mirror-less” Monday on February 21, reports WKTV. Event organizers covered the mirrors in every public bathroom with flyers covered with facts, information and positive messages about body image. A life-sized Barbie doll was also on display, which participants say shows that Barbie’s measurements are unattainable in real life.

Jan Fisher, senior counselor in Hamilton’s Counseling and Psychological Services, told the Hamilton College News that “Eating Disorders Awareness Week is an important way to raise awareness about eating disorders. College age students are especially vulnerable to these disorders so educating and raising awareness on college campuses is essential.”


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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