According to a survey of 1,600 hospitals recently conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare, there are approximately 26,000 patients receiving medical treatment for eating disorders in Japan.
The ministry had last conducted a similar survey in 1998, and since then the number of patients has increased around 10 percent, but there is little question the statistics represent only a small fraction of those who have eating disorders in Japan.
In the United States, where eating disorder statistics are more widely available, only around one-third of people struggling with anorexia nervosa seek treatment. And only six percent of those with bulimia obtain treatment. If we overlay the U.S. statistics on Japan’s population, it’s likely there are 200,000 or more eating disorder sufferers in Japan.
Eating disorders are not simply about eating. They are about self-image, and often involve unrealistic self-image that can have serious physical health consequences. Indeed, anorexia has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness; an estimated four percent of anorexia sufferers die from complications of the disease, and 3.9 percent of bulimia sufferers die.
While all of us require food in order to live, and eating can be one of the most pleasurably human activities, eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect people’s emotional and physical health. When eating is used to control body weight and shape and/or as a coping mechanism to manage difficult emotions and situations, eating can become dangerous.
At their extremes, eating disorders can seriously damage the sufferer’s health and significantly interfere with their ability to function daily and to enjoy life. In anorexia nervosa’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally, and the body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, with consequences that include abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, reduction of bone density muscle loss and weakness, and severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions.
It is common for eating disorders to occur with one or more other psychiatric disorders, which can complicate treatment and make recovery more difficult. Early detection and intervention can significantly help prevent the onset of a full-blown eating disorder, as well as years of struggles to recover from the illness.
People struggling with an eating disorder need to seek professional help. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.
Today is World Eating Disorder Action Day, a grassroots movement aimed at uniting organizations and activists across the globe to expand global awareness of eating disorders as genetically linked, treatable illnesses that can affect anyone. Please join us in this global effort to raise awareness about eating disorders and combat stigma so that more people can access the support that they need. To learn about how you can participate, visit http://www.worldeatingdisordersday.org/.