Women’s Health and Fitness Series Part III: Anorexia

As National Women’s Health and Fitness Day approaches on September 26th, there are only a few more topics left in PLOS ONE’s first blog series. Two recently published papers explore the various dimensions of Anorexia Nervosa (AN), a disease that affects both genders but is much more commonly found in women. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old. In addition to severe weight loss, the disease can also lead to heart conditions, kidney failure, and in some cases death, and even after a patient has recovered from the disease, it can leave lingering consequences. 

In their article published on Tuesday, researchers from The Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv wanted to explore anorexia’s long-term effects on growth, after patients had returned to normal eating habits and essentially “recovered”. Between January 1987 and December 1999, the researchers routinely measured the height and weight of 211 female adolescents who had been hospitalized for an eating disorder. They found that while nutritional rehabilitation can counter the growth stunting associated with the disease, “catch-up” growth is often incomplete, especially in patients who suffered from the eating disorder at a younger age. They conclude that early detection is most important for full “catch-up”.

The cause of AN is fairly complicated, but it is commonly associated with social expectations of body image and weight in the media. It is also often linked to psychiatric conditions like depression, and there are a variety of unidentified psychiatric implications and side effects that we still know little about. For example, in another recently published PLOS ONE article, 25 patients with anorexia and 25 controls were shown a door-like aperture and asked to judge whether or not it was wide enough for them (first person) to pass through, or for another person (third person) present in the room to pass through. The results indicated that AN patients had a skewed perception of their own ability to pass through a door, but not when judging a third party. This phenomenon has to do with neurological network impairment, where the nervous system does not appropriately update to reflect the AN patient’s diminished body size.

We may still be at the early stages of fully understanding anorexia, but one of the key solutions may be to emphasize the importance of healthy practices, as opposed to an overemphasis on weight – an idea that is certainly in line with Women’s Health and Fitness Day. This, along with a commitment to early detection and sustained support and treatment may help reduce the prevalence of anorexia, as well as other eating disorders.

Remember to check in next week for the last two posts of the series where we will discuss ovarian cancer and pregnancy.

Citation: Modan-Moses D, Yaroslavsky A, Kochavi B, Toledano A, Segev S, et al. (2012) Linear Growth and Final Height Characteristics in Adolescent Females with Anorexia Nervosa. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45504. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045504

Citation: Guardia D, Conversy L, Jardri R, Lafargue G, Thomas P, et al. (2012) Imagining One’s Own and Someone Else’s Body Actions: Dissociation in Anorexia Nervosa. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43241. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043241

Image Credit: cc-by license by daniellehelm on Flickr

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