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Atrium Health Navicent Physicians Urge Community to Be Aware of Signs of Eating Disorders

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 27 - March 5, 2023

In recognition of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, observed Feb. 27 through March 5, physicians at Atrium Health Navicent urge individuals to help recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in children.

Eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 28.8 million Americans struggle with eating disorders and 26 percent of those attempt suicide. About 10,200 deaths each year are the direct result of an eating disorder, and less than 6 percent of those with an eating disorder are considered medically underweight.

“It’s important for parents and guardians to be aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders so they can address any concerns they have with their child’s pediatrician,” said Dr. Yameika Head, director of Clinical Practice – Pediatrics for Atrium Health Navicent Medical Group.” Early intervention can help reduce the risk of serious health consequences.”

There are three common types of eating disorders:

• Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating (eating large amounts of food in a short time, along with the sense of a loss of control) followed by a type of behavior that compensates for the binge, such as vomiting or excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting or excessive exercise. People with bulimia may not be overweight, but they fear gaining weight or are unhappy with their body shape and size. Symptoms include evidence of binge eating, such as lots of empty wrappers or containers; evidence of purging, such as frequent trips to the bathroom after meals or signs of vomiting; excessive use of mouthwash, mints and gum; calluses on the back of the hands from self- induced vomiting; and dental problems, such as enamel erosion and discoloration of teeth from vomiting.

• Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by recurrent binge eating episodes during which a person feels a loss of control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia, binge eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise or fasting. As a result, people with binge eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Symptoms include a feeling of lack of control over their ability to stop eating; feelings of disgust, depression or guilt after overeating; and hoarding food in strange places.

• Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a significant reduction in food intake leading to extremely low body weight. People who have anorexia constantly want to be thinner, and suffer from a distortion of their own body image. Many people with anorexia see themselves as overweight, even when they are severely malnourished. Symptoms include dramatic weight loss; dressing in layers to hide weight loss; preoccupation with weight, food and calorie intake; and maintaining an excessive, rigid exercise regime, even with feeling sick.

Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of their age, weight, gender or sex and so it’s important for individuals to understand a few common myths and facts about eating disorders:

Myth: Eating disorders are a choice.

Fact: Eating disorders are not a choice. They are complex illnesses in which biological, environmental and social elements all play a role.

Myth: Parents cause eating disorders.

Fact: According to the Academy for Eating Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association and NEDA, parents don’t cause eating disorders. In the past, mothers have been blamed for their child’s eating disorder, but recent research supports that eating disorders have a strong biological root.

Myth: Eating disorders aren’t really that serious.

Fact: Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Besides medical complications from binge eating, purging, starvation and over-exercise, suicide is also common. Other health risks include heart attack, kidney failure, osteoporosis and electrolyte imbalance.

Myth: Only girls get eating disorders.

Fact: Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of their gender or sex. Although eating disorders are more common in females, there is evidence that a growing number of males and non-binary individuals are seeking help for eating disorders. A 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that up to onethird of all eating disorder sufferers are male.

For parents who suspect their child has an eating disorder, Atrium Health Navicent physicians want you to know that help is available. Early intervention is a key part of eating disorder prevention, and helps reduce serious psychological and health consequences. Through the support of family, friends and doctors, recovery from eating disorders is possible. For help finding a pediatrician or pediatric specialist, visit https://childrenshospitalnh.org/ and click “Find A Doctor.”

About Atrium Health Navicent

Atrium Health Navicent is the leading provider of health care in central and south Georgia and is committed to its mission of elevating health and wellbeing through compassionate care. Atrium Health Navicent is part of Advocate Health, which is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is the fifth-largest nonprofit health system in the United States, created from the combination of Atrium Health and Advocate Aurora Health. Atrium Health Navicent provides high-quality, personalized care in 53 specialties at more than 50 facilities throughout the region. As part of the largest, integrated, nonprofit health system in the Southeast, it is also able to tap into some of the nation’s leading medical experts and specialists with Atrium Health, allowing it to provide the best care close to home – including advanced innovations in virtual medicine and care. Throughout its 125-year history in the community, Atrium Health Navicent has remained dedicated to enhancing health and wellness for individuals throughout the region through nationally recognized quality care, community health initiatives and collaborative partnerships. It is also one of the leading teaching hospitals in the region, helping to ensure viability for rural health care for the next generation. For more information, please visit www.NavicentHealth.org.