This week is National Eating Disorders Week, marking an important reminder of serious afflictions that affect many across the globe.
Some examples of eating disorders include bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
"Eating disorders are complicated and vexing problems and we don't exactly understand the pathophysiology of them," said Dr. Aaron Krasner, director of the Adolescent Transitional Living Program at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut, according to Forbes. "Certainly there is both a genetic component and an environmental component."
"For all psychiatric illnesses and eating disorders in particular, it's not a one size fits all remedy or a preventive strategy," he added.
Fifty percent of those with eating disorders meet the criteria for having depression. Meanwhile, just one out of ten people with eating disorders receive therapy. Just 35 percent of those that engage in therapy for an eating disorder receive treatment at a specialized facility for their disorder.
Among all identified mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate. It is estimated that 24 million people in the U.S. suffer from some sort of eating disorder.
Students can be particularly at risk for eating disorders, with high stress levels contributing to the problem.
Although many perceive eating disorders as primarily affecting women, research shows that many men are affected as well.
"The research in general shows that eating disorders are more common than we initially thought, and not only do they just occur in young women, but they are actually common in men and boys," said Dr. Alix Timko, assistant psychology professor at the University of Sciences in Philadelphia and director of the school's Eating Disorder Research Program. "The most common age of onset for eating disorders is during adolescence."
Recent data suggests that eating disorders are becoming more prevalent, including among younger children. The National Eating Disorders Association claims that almost 80 percent of ten-year-olds are afraid of being overweight. Studies have indicated that a mother's concerns over a child's body weight can contribute to eating disorders in children.
Krasner said that there is hope for recovery among those with eating disorders.
"There is good news and bad news," she said. "The good news, in particular for bulimia and binge eating disorders, is that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has shown clear evidence compared to placebo psychosocial conditions to help with symptoms associated with both bulimia and binge eating disorder."
Medication has also proven effective in some cases.