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Eating Disorders Have Most Deaths of Mental Illnesses

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Guest blogger Maggie Baumann, MA: Media coverage of anorexia fatalities spiked recently with the announcement of the November 17 death of anorexic 28-year-old French model and actress Isabelle Caro, who famously posed in a controversial 2007 Italian ad campaign called "No Anorexia."

In the billboard-sized ad, Caro bared all -- which wasn't much. At the time, she weighed just 60 pounds, and her bones protruded through her skin. The campaign was created in order to build awareness of anorexia and discourage the use of super-skinny fashion models.

On December 30, the New York Times posted an article on Caro's death, stating, "Though her anorexia was almost certainly a factor in her death, its exact role was not clear, and [Caro's] weight at her death was not known .... She was 5 feet 4 inches tall and had battled anorexia since the age of 13."

This sad story doesn't stop at Caro's death. Bulimia kills just like anorexia. Someone I knew personally passed away unexpectedly earlier this month; the cause of death was most likely a heart attack. Her obituary was just posted today in her hometown newspaper. You probably don't know her; she wasn't an actress or a model or even an eating-disorder activist. She was just a kind, gentle woman in her 30s whom I called "Flower," who fought a long, courageous battle trying to recover from bulimia.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, statistics show that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It's estimated that 10 percent of individuals with anorexia will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder. The mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 to 24 years old. Twenty percent of people suffering from anorexia will die prematurely due to complications related to their eating disorder.

Eating-disorder deaths can be caused by any of the following, or a combination thereof:

  • Heart attack or heart failure
  • Lung collapse
  • Internal bleeding
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver failure
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gastric rupture
  • Depression and suicide

Isabelle Caro is gone. My friend Flower is gone. In fact, I can personally name several other women I have known through the years who died from this disease. They were here one day, and gone the next.

It's important to know that it doesn't matter what size you are, how tall you are, what sex you are, how old you are, what your weight is (whether you're 60 pounds or 160 pounds): Anyone can die from an eating disorder.

Although Caro wore her disorder very visibly, there are many other people who die from eating disorders who aren't thin. Some are even overweight. You can't just look at someone and know that he or she has an eating disorder. Of course, it's easier to spot someone with anorexia, but the size of those suffering from bulimia or binge-eating disorder can vary widely -- and their eating disorder can kill them just the same.

The earlier an eating disorder is detected and treated, the greater the person's chance of recovery. If you or someone close to you is dealing with an eating disorder, seek help NOW. You can find treatment resources at the National Eating Disorder Association website


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