I recently saw a news clip featuring Katie Couric talking about eating disorder awareness month. She said, “Anorexia and Bulimia affect over 10 million girls in the US and over 2 million boys.” She went on to give resources and tips on how to detect and prevent eating disorders. At the end of it I was grateful to see eating disorders getting publicity (especially by a noted newscaster like Couric), but I was annoyed that Binge Eating, Compulsive Overeating and Obesity didn’t make it on to her list of eating disorders. I find it quite troubling that many mistaken the word “Eating Disorder” to only associate with food deprivation and not consumption. The fact of the matter is that people who are obese have just as severe eating disorders as anorexics and need just as much treatment and support.
Coincidentally when I researched the prevalence of eating disorders in Jamaica I was ironically presented with the following data: Anorexia has not been a major plague in Jamaica. According to an article published in the West Indian Medical Journal in 2002, the incidence of eating disorders in Jamaica was low. The survey, conducted by V.O. White and J.M. Gardner, covered the period dating from 1985 to 1998 and found that two cases of Anorexia Nervosa (AN) were treated at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and 11 cases of AN and 11 cases of Bulimia Nervosa (BN) were presented to health professionals.
Did you catch that they are just talking about Anorexia and Bulimia. However, The Ministry of Health website for promotion of healthy lifestyle in Jamaica shows that Jamaicans are killing themselves with violence, sex and fat. The policy states "during the last 50 years the major causes of death and disability in Jamaica have changed from communicable and infectious diseases to chronic disease conditions. The problems are largely rooted in the lifestyle and show a dominance of chronic diseases, sexually related conditions, including HIV/AIDS and violence related injuries and death." Interesting findings considering those with eating disorders are known to indulge in sexually promiscuity, self harming behaviors and fatty foods when binging. Hmm….
Globally, there are more than 1 billion overweight adults, and at least 300 million of them are clinically obese. The Caribbean has some of the highest rates of obesity. In Jamaica, 52% of persons 15-74 yrs. old are overweight/obese. Women bear the greatest burden of this epidemic with 64.7% overweight/obese.
Yes, you read that right 64.7% of women in Jamaica are obese. When I I hear that I hear 64.7% of the women in Jamaica have eating disorders. Now, some might argue this statement with the evidence that people of African or Caribbean ethnicity are genetically pre-disposed to being larger on the scales. However, obesity and large are two different things. The consequences of obesity can be severe. If left untreated, an obese person is at pronounced risk of developing serious mental disorders, such as depression, personality disorders, or anxiety disorders as a direct consequence of their obesity. For many, obesity leads to chronic and often life-threatening eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. People who are obese are also at much greater risk of developing a variety of serious medical conditions including high blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, gallbladder disease, upper respiratory problems, arthritis, skin disorders, menstrual irregularities, ovarian abnormalities, and complications of pregnancy. Obesity is responsible for over 300,000 deaths each year in the US alone.
So to answer our original question, yes there are definitely eating disorders in Jamaica. In face 64% of the women there have an eating disorder called, Obesity. What can you do about this? You can TALK about this. You can bring this up to friends in discussions, you can blog, you can share this article on Facebook and Twitter, you can tell your doctor and therapist. The more our society knows realizes that eating disorders are not a disease of the white, the wealthy and the privileged the more and funding will go to research and stopping this disease from killing more people. People who didn’t ask for this disease but are silently suffering because no one knows how to help them. Today you have discovered how to help them, will you?
"We are not here merely to make a living, but to enrich the world with a finer spirit of hope and achievement - and we impoverish ourselves if we forget the errand."
- Woodrow Wilson