A study conducted last spring by the Student Health Center found that eating disorders are not just a women’s problem – one in five UCSB students has an eating disorder, including men.
Dr. Louise Ousley, who works at Student Health, mailed a survey out to randomly selected students to assess their eating habits. The study found 15.9 percent of men and 21.4 percent of women had a clinically-diagnosable eating disorder – for a total of 19.8 percent.
The study also found that 90 percent of those who suffer from eating disorders are of normal weight, underscoring the psychological nature of the problem.
Commonly known disorders like bulimia made up less than 5 percent of the findings.
Danielle Endaya – who has worked with the Student Health-sponsored student organization, Healthy Eating And Living (HEAL), for the last two years -suffered from bulimia as a senior in high school. Student Health has helped her regain control.
“I found resources at Student Health and was able to start recovering,” she said.
She said the low numbers of those classified as having bulimia and anorexia in the study were because of the strict definitions used for the specific diseases.
“Just because someone is not under clinical diagnosis, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a problem,” she said.
The vast majority of the students with a disorder – 14.5 percent of the diagnosed sample – fell under the category of “eating disorders not otherwise specified”(EDNOS).
EDNOS encompasses many of the symptoms that characterize bulimia and anorexia nervosa. These symptoms include a disturbance in eating or control of eating, low self esteem, rumination (constantly thinking about food), counting calories and obsessive exercise. All of these symptoms lead to an overall impairment of daily function, the defining characteristic of a disorder.
A lesser-known disorder among UCSB students is Binge Eating Disorder. Binge eating usually consists of starving oneself, which causes extreme craving, followed by out-of-control eating. A Binge Eating Disorder sufferer may then feel guilty and restrict his or her diet again, initiating a dangerous cycle.
A similar study of eating disorders was conducted at UCSB in 1995. Notable differences in the two studies included a decrease in the frequency of Binge Eating Disorder from 4.2 percent in 1995 to 1.5 percent in 2002 and an increased prevalence of EDNOS among men from 4.3 percent to 14.6 percent. The total percentage of UCSB students with an eating disorder only increased slightly in the past seven years, from 18.5 percent to 19.8 percent.
Michael Takahara, a health educator at Student Health, attributed the rise in male eating disorders to a rise in pressure for men to have muscular, toned bodies.
“There has not been very [extensive] national average studies on men,” he said. “It is considered a woman’s disease.”
Researchers believe that pressure can lead to compulsive exercising and the use of dietary supplements to gain a physical edge. The latter raises particular concern because many supplements used to gain muscle mass are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and can be fatal if used improperly.
“Its not like supplements are horrible; it’s just that you don’t always know what you’re getting because it’s not regulated,” Takahara said.
The study showed that the percentage of UCSB students who take diet pills or supplements on a weekly basis increased from 2.2 percent in 1995 to 10 percent in 2002.
The National Center for Health Statistics found comparable rates to those found in the UCSB study for college-aged men and women with bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder. However, their findings show that only 15 percent of young women nationwide have substantially disordered eating attitudes and behaviors, while the rate measured by Student Health was over 21 percent, a difference which may be attributed to the National Center’s lack of accounting for EDNOS.
Next week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. HEAL is hosting various events throughout the week. There will be several venues for those seeking information on eating disorders and healthy diets, including a question and answer session Thursday at the RecCen with Student Health’s registered dietitian.