“Why are you researching eating disorders?” I get asked this question a lot, actually, and it usually comes along with a statement similar to, “That’s really depressing.” Yes, I have to agree. It is really heartbreaking to see people of every age, gender, race, and culture develop a mental illness that causes them to harm their bodies – to starve their bodies, purge their bodies, or binge until their bodies can’t take it. That’s part of the reason why I eventually want to specialize in eating disorders as a Registered Dietitian and work in an eating disorder clinic. I want to help people overcome their illnesses and teach them that food is not the enemy and their body is not a cage. I want to show them how to nourish their body and make it the best it can be instead of tearing it apart. Therefore, researching eating disorders in general will help me along my future career path and give me a strong undergraduate background in eating disorder research. Furthermore, this research has been helping me understand more about the disorder and the people it affects.
“Why research the prevalence of eating disorders in Western and Nonwestern countries then?” I’m glad you asked. Prevalence rates are critical in understanding the widespread presence of an illness in a given population at a given point in time. For my research, I’m trying to find the prevalence of eating disorders in the years 1980-2015 in Western and Nonwestern populations. I can then compare this data to determine if the rates are similar or not. This is important to me because there is this false belief that eating disorders are a disease solely in women in Western societies. Through my research, I want to show that this is not the case, and eating disorders can affect anyone.
I not only want to work in the treatment of eating disorders, but also in the prevention. Therefore, researching prevalence rates can show me the trends and how many people are affected by eating disorders, which could potentially impact future prevention strategies. If the rates decreased sharply, I can then look into what happened that caused those rates to decline. Maybe it was a prevention strategy, maybe it was societal, but whatever it was, it would be good to know. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, and I would like to do my part to change that, through research, counseling, and whatever else is necessary.
by Ashley Kyle