In Depth with Anorexia Nervosa
> 11/28/2005 10:17:59 AM

The cover of the upcoming December 5th issue of Newsweek portrays the intent face of an adolescent girl.  Stamped across here serious stare are the words "Fighting Anorexia."  Her young face represents a disturbing trend that reporter Peg Tyre examines in her article subtitled "No One to Blame."  Commonly associated with middle to upper class white female teenagers, more and more anorexia is striking people from many backgrounds.  It's also being treated in boys.  But maybe most distressing is the fact that the youngest patients receiving treatment have dropped from 13-years of age to 9- and even 8-years.

Newsweek's cover story successfully repackages much of the current information about anorexia nervosa into a coherent narrative.  This often gut-wrenching story encapsulates anecdotal as well as medical evidence for the shear destructiveness of this disease.  One particularly heart-rending passage is worth repeating here:

Lori Cornwell says her son's descent was horrifyingly fast. In the summer of 2004, 9-year-old Matthew Cornwell of Quincy, Ill., weighed a healthy 49 pounds. Always a picky eater, he began restricting his food intake until all he would eat was a carrot smeared with a tablespoon of peanut butter. Within three months, he was down to 39 pounds. When the Cornwells and their doctor finally located a clinic that would accept a 10-year-old boy, Lori tucked his limp body under blankets in the back seat of her car and drove all night across the country. Matthew was barely conscious when he arrived at the Children's Hospital in Omaha. "I knew that I had to get there before he slipped away," she says.

While stories like these add a human element to the battle against anorexia, the statistics speak for themselves.  Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.  Only 50 percent of those who suffer from anorexia make a complete recovery.  Approximately 2.5 million Americans suffer from anorexia nervosa, while 0.5 to 3.7 percent of females suffer from the disease in their lifetime.

As its title implies, Tyre's article explores the boundaries of treatment for anorexia.  She examines the changing perceptions of the disease not only in the public eye, but in the medical field as well.  There is evidence now, that like other mental disorders, anorexia may have a genetic link.  New thinking has also led to new treatments such as the Maudsley approach, which was named for the hospital where it was developed and advocates a family oriented attack on the disease. 

While it is by no means a complete picture of anorexia nervosa, Tyre's article is very much worth the time.  It serves as a great jumping off point for learning more about a deadly mental health problem. 

More information about anorexia nervosa can be found here at Treatment Online, or also at the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Institute of Mental Health websites.

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