Drop dead skinny: anorexia increasingly common in the Middle East
Eating disorders, specifically anorexia among young girls, are a worldwide problem that is seeing a rise in developing countries including Lebanon, presenters at an annual psychiatry conference in Beirut said Friday.
“I meet a lot of anorexic girls at my clinic. What I find is that they want to grow up, but at the same they’re afraid of growing up,” said Carine Khouri Naja, a Beirut-based psychiatrist who gave a presentation on anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by low weight, bad eating habits, an obsession with the body and fear of gaining weight.
She linked the desire of young women to be thin with wanting to look “pure” and prepubescent.
“The numbers are increasing, I think because of the influence of [fashion] models.”
Beirut-based nutritionist Aoude Hosh concurred, saying she believed over the past five years the level of anorexia in Lebanon has reached the same as that of France, where she spent 18 years. She attributed this apparent trend to the “Internet explosion,” exposing more young girls to more images of extremely thin models.
The two-day conference, which was part of the fifth annual Francophone Days of Science at the Order of Physicians in Furn al-Shubbak, brought together some of Lebanon’s top specialists in the field of eating disorder research, as well as some of their French counterparts. It was the second conference of its kind, following last year’s event on obsessive disorders.
Presenters discussed the origins, dangers and prevalence of eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, a condition affecting millions worldwide and most prevalent among adolescent females. Anorexia is primarily found in the West, although rates of diagnosis have increased significantly in recent years in developing countries, possibly because of the proliferation of the Internet.
A U.K.-based study found that in the last decade those seeking treatment for the disorder increased by 80 percent.
Even though anorexia, said to be the world’s most fatal mental disorder, has seen a marked increase in recent years, it is far being a new phenomenon.
Sami Richa, based at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Beirut, noted that the first case of anorexia was documented in 1689 in Europe.
He showed a series of slides of popular images of women’s bodies over the years – from the iconic voluptuous figures drawn by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Ruben to the 1960s, as women’s unrealistically thin bodies prevailed in advertising campaigns.
Like his colleagues, Richa cited the media as contributing to the poor body image that women harbor. He pointed to one study which found that the introduction of the television in Fiji about 20 years ago led to a rise in reported anorexia cases.
Still, despite the grim statistics, he and other presenters suggested that the rise in documented cases of anorexia could also be a sign that more people are seeking treatment amid a growing awareness and acceptance of speaking openly about the disorder.