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What is anorexia you may be asking. Anorexia is a lack or loss of appetite for food, and it is an emotional disorder characterised by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. It is a major problem faced by many countries worldwide that is only getting worse over the years. There have been an increasing number of females being diagnosed with anorexia which has been causing them to suffer from severe medical consequences such as malnutrition as well as depression. There have also been an exponentially growing number of news reports on hospitalisations and even deaths caused by anorexia. Anorexia causes the body’s intake of calories to be lower than the required amounts resulting in the body breaking down existing tissue and severe dehydration from lack of water in the body can cause kidney failure. Moreover, lack of calcium and vitamin D can also cause bone density to decrease which can result in premature osteoporosis and increased risk of bone fractures. Although not a direct effect of malnutrition due to anorexia, it can also cause depression which has also led to an increase in suicide rates, it is also currently known that one in five resulting deaths is caused by suicide.
This problem of anorexia is no longer only affecting working class women but also teenage girls. According to Straits Times, children and teenagers, from as young as nine years old, with anorexia has increased by an average of 10% a year since 2008. Although, research conducted with young people in 2010 indicated that 51.3% of 12-17 year olds agreed that a person with an eating disorder should ‘snap out of it, there are more important things in life to worry about’. However, an eating disorder is not a phase and will not be resolved without treatment and support. In fact, due to the nature of these illnesses a person with an eating disorder may go to great lengths to hide, disguise or deny their behaviour, and may not recognise that there is anything wrong.
Now moving on to what changes can be made, I believe that in order to address this issue, we must target the root of the problem which is this mindset of the perfect body. The reason for the occurrence of females developing anorexia is largely attributed to their perception of a perfect body. When one thinks of the ideal body they wish to have, they will undoubtedly mention their wish to lose weight and slim down; however this is where the problem lies. It starts from this erroneous mindset which ultimately transforms into an uncontrollable desire to achieve that body type, which inevitably is the cause for unnecessary dieting, resulting in anorexia developing gradually. Thus to make an impact, we need to amend this flawed thinking and this change must start from a young age. Personally I feel that ideally girls should be taught that their bodies are already perfect and that they do not need to be skinny to look good. However, since that may not be the case, I look to the education system for assistance to help address this issue. Through schooling, I believe that we can impart self-worth, self-esteem as well as self-love into the minds of these young girls and as a result prevent them from unnecessary dieting. By instilling these values into these young girls, it will prevent them from feeling that their body’s are inadequate, which solves the fundamental problem as to why girls generally develop this condition.
Education about body image, disordered eating and the risks of dieting is an important aspect for all health and wellbeing programs in schools which should include but not be limited to physical education lessons. Educators can also integrate relevant knowledge into appropriate subject areas such as diet and exercise in Biology class.
As for exactly how we should approach the solution, I feel that it is necessary for each school to set out a clear policy with regards to what strategies they will employ for prevention, early intervention and management of eating disorders. This policy should include initial response procedures such as the appropriate channels for educators to report student mental health conditions with assured confidentiality, support structure for students as well as the relevant staff trained to handle students facing such issues.
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