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New Study Reveals Perception About Eating Disorders

Despite a wave of Hollywood films, TV specials and books focusing on the potentially deadly health risks presented by eating disorders, a new study reveals that many Americans don’t view anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and other eating disorders as the life-threatening mental illnesses they are.

The January 2018 study conducted for Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders by Ipsos Public Affairs found that:

  • More than one in three (39%) Americans surveyed believe that eating disorders are just a cry for attention or a person “going through a phase.” This statistic jumps to 50% when just asking men, versus 29% of women.
  • More than one in 10 (13%) believe that eating disorders are not serious – that they are a lifestyle choice or about vanity.
  • A small percentage, 5% of survey respondents, report that they would consider a potential dating partner with an eating disorder as “attractive.”
  • Twice as many survey respondents say they would stop dating someone suffering from a mental illness (71%), compared to those who say the same of dating someone struggling with an eating disorder (38%), suggesting Americans view eating disorders as less serious than other mental illnesses.

“Eating disorders are among the deadliest of all mental illnesses,” counters Dr. Dena Cabrera, executive clinical director for Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders. “Without treatment, up to 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders die. And yet, most people with eating disorders don’t seek treatment – some feel they can recover on their own; many others fear the stigma that our society has placed on the disease. To save lives, this survey reveals that it’s time we change the way America looks at eating disorders.”

In particular, the Rosewood study found potentially dangerous misconceptions about eating disorders and men:

  • 43% of respondents believe that eating disorders are very rare in men; whereas, “At some point in their lives, 10 million men in the United States will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder,” said Cabrera, who has been treating men with eating disorders for the past six years. “Anorexia is now being diagnosed in boys as young as eight, and 40 percent of those with binge-eating disorder are male.”
  • If they suspected a male friend was struggling with an eating disorder, nearly one in five survey respondents reported they would tell that friend to “just eat something” (9%) or “do nothing at all,” because they’d feel it was none of their business or feared they would be rejected or resented for the intrusion (10%).
  • Men are significantly more likely to think that a person affected by an eating disorder is cured once back to a normal weight (25% of men versus 8% of women). In reality, “No one can define a person’s health by how much they weigh,” Cabrera said. “Regardless of media images portraying those with anorexia as emaciated, people with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Even athletes who appear to be at peak fitness might be struggling with an eating disorder.”

“There are myriad ways we can all advance America’s understanding of how serious eating disorders are, and that there is help,” Cabrera said. “From learning the signs, symptoms and causes of eating disorders, to encouraging someone you may suspect of struggling with an eating disorder to get screened by a qualified health professional, we can all take steps to spread the word and, hopefully, save lives.”

About the Rosewood Study

These are the findings from an Ipsos poll conducted January 3 – 5, 2018 on behalf of Atlanta-based RiverMend Health, which operates Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders. For the survey, a sample of 1,004 adults ages 18 and over from the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii was interviewed online, in English. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of ± 3.5 percentage points for all respondents surveyed.

About Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders

Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders is one of the first and most experienced programs in the United States providing comprehensive care for those struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and co-occurring disorders. Our treatment programs are led by renowned experts Dena Cabrera, Psy.D., CEDS, and Amelia Davis, M.D. Clients choose Rosewood for superior medical and psychiatric treatment, innovative therapies, individualized aftercare, alumni support and family involvement. With locations in Arizona and California, Rosewood offers all levels of care for men, women and adolescents, providing individualized treatment to match the unique needs of our patients.

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