New Views on Anorexia
Anorexia nervosa has the reputation of a horrific eating disorder characterized by images of wasted young female bodies.
A new Finnish study examined anorexia from a nation-wide perspective discovering the disorder is a common, often severe, but short-lasting illness.
According to study authors, the view of anorexia nervosa as an often chronic disease with high mortality rates was highly biased.
Its outcome is generally good: up to 70 percent of women with anorexia recover before age 30 according to collaborating scientist at Columbia University and University of Helsinki, Finland.
Anorexia is common but often overlooked
In the Finnish study, 2.2 percent of Finnish young women suffered from severe anorexia nervosa. When milder forms of self-starvation and obsessive anxiety about weight and shape were included, up to 5 percent of women suffered from anorexic symptoms during their lifetime.
Anorexic symptoms usually started between ages 10 and 25; the peak of illness onset was between ages 15 and 19.
Although Finland has an excellent taxpayer-funded healthcare system that covers everyone, only half of women with anorexia nervosa were recognized by healthcare professionals. Even fewer received any typeof treatment for their symptoms.
Seven out of ten women with anorexia recover
By age 30, up to 70 percent of women with anorexia had recovered from their illness. On average, the duration of anorexia was three years; about 25 percent recovered within a year, about 33 percent within 2 years, and about 67 percent within 5 years from the onset of their symptoms.
Recovery from anorexia was usually slow and gradual. First, lost weight was regained and menstruation resumed. Attitudes about body shape and weight took a much longer time to resolve.
The Finnish study was conducted among pairs of female twins. Twins with anorexia nervosa were compared to their healthy co-twins and to healthy women from the general population.
Within five years from weight restoration, women with anorexia nervosa were virtually indistinguishable from their healthy co-twins in terms of psychological symptoms and self-esteem. However, learning to deal with body shape and weight related concerns took usually much longer, 5-10 years.
“Will I be able to marry, have children, work, and have a normal life?”
Women in the acute starvation phase of anorexia were less likely to date, live in long-term relationships, and marry than their healthy co-twins and other healthy women.
However, women who had recovered from anorexia nervosa were just as likely to date, have sexual relationships, marry, and have children than healthy women. Women recovering from anorexia were also as likely to continue their studies and to find steady employment than healthy women.
Source: University of Helsinki
Nauert PhD, R. (2007). New Views on Anorexia. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 25, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/08/01/new-views-on-anorexia/1089.html