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Eating Disorders

Anorexia, Bulimia, Obesity

Eating disorders are psychological conditions that involve either overeating, voluntary starvation, or both. No one is sure what causes eating disorders, but researchers think that family dynamics, biochemical abnormalities, and society's preoccupation with thinness may all contribute. Eating disorders are virtually unknown in parts of the world where food is scarce and within less affluent socioeconomic groups in developed countries. Although these disorders have been known throughout history, they have gained attention in recent years, in part because some celebrities have died as a result of their eating disorders.

Young people are more likely than older people to develop an eating disorder—the condition usually begins before age 20. Although both men and women can develop the problem, it is more common in women. Only about 5% of people with eating disorders are male. In either males or females, eating disorders are considered serious and potentially deadly. Many large hospitals and psychiatric clinics have programs especially designed to treat these conditions.

Anorexia nervosa, anorexic bulimia, and obesity are the most well known types of eating disorders. The word anorexia comes from the Greek word meaning "lack of appetite." But the problem for people with anorexia is not that they are not hungry. They starve themselves out of fear of gaining weight, even when they are severely underweight. The related condition, anorexic bulimia, literally means being "hungry as an ox." People with this problem go on eating binges, often gorging on junk food. Then they force their bodies to get rid of the food, either by making themselves vomit or by taking large amounts of laxatives. A third type of eating disorder is obesity caused by uncontrollable overeating. Being slightly overweight is not a serious health risk. But being 25% or more over one's recommended body weight can lead to many health problems.

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