Major Risk Factors for the Development of Anorexia Nervosa
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Anorexia Nervosa is an aggressive eating disorder inflicting people indiscriminately around the globe. It occurs primarily among females with onset generally occurring in early to late adolescence, often resulting in death. Anorexia nervosa is characterised by an individuals refusal to maintain a healthy weight, intense fear of weight gain and a distorted body image. The major risk factors contributing to the development of anorexia are Genetics, Psychological Traits, Cultural and Media Ideals and an unhealthy family environment.
Fifty six percent of people who suffer from anorexia have a genetic predisposition to the disease (Candy, 2003). People who have an immediate family member with Anorexia are 12 times more likely to develop the disorder themselves than those with no family history of the disease. This is due to a hereditary gene which is linked to abnormalities with the neurotransmitter chemical, Serotonin (Source, 2003). This chemical is an active participant in the control of sleep, memory, learning, mood, body temperature, muscle contraction, cardiovascular and appetite. People who suffer from abnormalities relating to this neurotransmitter have an increased chance of developing high levels of serotonin. High levels of serotonin can lead to sufferers developing a decreased appetite, high levels of anxiety and depression.
A study conducted on worms showed that starving a worm of serotonin increased the worms appetite while high levels of serotonin in the worms decreased the worms appetite. This research supports the theory of anorexia sufferers high levels of serotonin leading to decreased appetite. It has also been found that the consumption of food causes the body to synthesis serotonin, conditioning the anorexic to avoid food and reduce their anxiety levels. Many anorexics say food deprivation makes them feel calm and in control. This claim of abnormal serotonin levels contributing to anorexia is further supported by the fact that 50 to 70 percent of those with eating disorders are diagnosed with depression, a mental illness also associated with abnormalities in serotonin balance. Therefore, a person with a genetic predisposition to neurochemistry abnormalities has a high risk of developing anorexia nervosa.
Perfectionism and a low self esteem are psychological traits which increase the risk of adolescents developing anorexia nervosa. Anorexics tend to be perfectionists. Reports on the tendency of anorexics to remain perfectionists for at least a year after recovery suggest perfectionism is a trait which puts adolescents at risk. Anorexics have unrealistic expectations of themselves. They often set themselves standards which are impossible to achieve and leave them with feelings of inadequacy. Like perfectionists, anorexics view the world in terms of black and white, with no shades of grey. Things are either good or bad, a success or a failure. A perfectionist student who receives anything less than the highest mark will deem their result a failure. Similarly, anorexics will view thin as good and fat as bad, with no grey area for a normal weight in between. This leads them to believe that if thin is good then thinner is better, so thinnest is best.
Perfectionists strive to be the best at whatever they do. This trait in an anorexic motivates them to be as thin as possible with the opinion that being thin will make them better. Low self-esteem is also a psychological risk factor. A person with low self-esteem may feel their eating problems are the only thing about them which is special or different. Their ability to feel hungry and yet refuse to eat can feel like a special talent that most people are unable to achieve. They feel disciplined to be able to stick to very low calorie diets. For people who are perfectionists and have low self-esteem, their eating problems can show them they are good at one thing, losing weight. This can suddenly offer them a sense of purpose.
Culture is an environmental risk factor contributing to anorexia nervosa. The disease is more prevalent in some cultures than others, with those living in America, Europe and Australasia most at risk. This is due to men and women in westernised countries being exposed to unrealistic cultural demands. Western society places great importance on success in all areas of life, including slimness. People equate this success to their self worth, thinking that if they were thin, they would be happier, or a better person. This is shown in the medias representation of cultural ideals. Exposure to western media ideals is a major risk factor for developing anorexia nervosa, or any eating disorder. The media is constantly bombarding us with images of happy, successful people. These people are usually