Therapists and counselors see quite a bit of crossover between weight-related issues and mental health concerns. The deprivation of anorexia and bulimia are often linked to anxiety, control and low self-esteem. On the other end of the spectrum, depression and obesity frequently go hand in hand, reinforcing one another along the way. While many of the reasons that people develop unhealthy relationships with food and weight are personal and internal, external social factors play a surprisingly large role, as well. One new study finds that obesity tends to “cluster”: an overweight individual is more likely than average to have a best friend or romantic partner who is overweight.
Under eating is impacted by social context, too, and parents of youth and adolescents should take particular note of this next finding. It’s widely accepted that the mass media portrays unrealistic beauty ideals, indirectly reinforcing eating disorders. But unplugging your own son or daughter from media exposure isn’t as protective as you’d hope: secondhand television exposure has been linked to an increase in eating disorders in the recently-plugged-in nation of Fiji. If a teen’s friends watch a lot of television, their group’s collective beauty standards will influence that teen’s body image, making him or her more likely to develop an eating disorder, even if they never turn on a TV themselves.
Sadly, social factors even play a role in the treatment of weight and food issues. Regardless of their doctor’s race, obese black patients are less likely than obese white patients to receive counseling about weight reduction and exercise, according to a new Johns Hopkins study. Detection of eating disorders is biased by the perception that white middle- and upper-class teen girls and women are the only groups at serious risk. In fact, boys and kids under the age of twelve suffer from eating disorders more than ever before. There’s no single solution to these problems, but education and awareness are always good starting points. Be accountable to yourself and to those around you by encouraging healthy eating and positive body image. And support those who may need to find a therapist to deal with personal issues that may manifest physically.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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