Eating disorders are not new. Anorexia Nervosa was first formally diagnosed in 1874, and the symptoms have been observed as far back as 300 years ago.(Walsh and Devlin 1) Although the condition has been known for centuries, it seems to be center stage now during the last decade or so.
What is behind Anorexia? Is it inherited? Is Anorexia caused by some type of mental illness, or maybe environmental pressures? Does culture play a role in whether or not someone suffers from Anorexia? These questions are not easily answered,as we know if we have had any family members or close friends who have suffered from Anorexia. It's not as easily diagnosed as the measles or chickenpox, where the doctor knows exactly what the cause is. We will discover that there is no one clearcut cause for Anorexia.
According to Women's Health Weekly one research study collected blood from 200 families where at least two of the siblings were suffering from Anorexia, several of the test results suggest a possible link between Anorexia and a shared suseptability gene found in many of the siblings (10) . We must keep in mind that although this research is promising it is still as of yet incomplete data, which in essence makes it a theory. This by no means suggests that there is not a biological link, but that more research needs to be done.
There have also been a connection made between Anorexia and mental illness. Indeed recent research has discovered a strong link between Anorexia and several psychiatric disturbances such as; depression, agoraphobia, and social phobics to mention a few. The most promising connection is that many Anorexics are responding to a wide variety of psychiatric medication(Nagel and Jones 2). Although the numbers are not in yet, the fact that many of these people are responding to medication suggests a solid connection between mind and body. If we look at just a couple of behaviors many Anorexics display it does very much mimic that of a psychiatric disturbance. Most Anorexics are overly preoccupied with meal preparation and feeding everyone except themselves. Does this sound somewhat compulsive? Depression also seems to be a common trait among Anorexics, although the mere fact that these people are literally starving themselves can itself induce depression. One study found that 93% of their "persistant"Anorexic subjects suffered from depression. Interestingly 37% of their "recovered" Anorexics still presented with depression.(2)
A less researched area is that of environmental causes. Suzette, a 41 year old mother of two relates: " My mother was always dieting, although she didn't seem occupied with other peoples weight. My mother was great and I always wanted to be like her. I was about thirteen when I stated to diet, with every pound I lost people would tell me; "Oh you look so good, just like your mother". I thought that was wonderful I just kept losing more and more". Suzette also talks about how during her adolescent years she felt pressure too from school mates and fashion magazines to maintain a certain weight. Models like Twiggy were looked at as the most beautiful and intelligent. And after all as young people who we see on T.V. and in magazines become our role models. Suzette also suggests that as time went on and fashions and women became thinner and thinner she too dieted to the point of emaciation. When asked , " If you could name one thing that caused your Anorexia what would you say?" Suzette explained that it wasn't just one thing, but to name one of the main reasons she said "It was probably mainly watching my mother's patterns as a child and wanting to be like her in every way". Suzette also points out that she never had a close relationship with her father, and that she seemed to get some recognition when she lost a few pounds. She relates he wasn't cruel to her but she had a need to please him, which she felt carried over into her married life, dragging Anorexia along with her.
Although circumstantial ,evidence suggests that culture has a lot to do with whether or not a person will have an eating disorder. Here in the U.S. where there is more than enough food, girls who are at so called ideal body weight are still trying to lose more. In this country even though we promote good health our advetising on T.V., fashion magazines, and even on the World Wide Web equate thinness with beauty and good health. This type of advertisement seems to be directed toward caucasion girls in general. Black girls who do not usually develop Anorexia are more confident about their body images than are white girls of similar weights(Walsh ad Devlin3).
Although it seems biology may play some part in the development of Anorexia, it seems more likely that the images that our culture bombards the youth of today with can and is overwhelming. If in the unfortunate incident that a person has a mental illness such as obsessive compulsive disorder or depression they are more likely to succumb to the pressures of being thin and therefore are more likely to develop Anorexia.