02/24/2011 08:37 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Advancing Eating Disorders as a Public Health Concern

These days most people know someone in their family or community who has been impacted by an eating disorder. In the United States alone, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with anorexia or bulimia. Approximately 15 million more are struggling with binge eating disorder.

Research shows that genetic factors create vulnerabilities for some individuals, placing them at risk for responding to cultural pressures and triggering behaviors such as dieting and obsessive exercise. Every eating disorder signifies a host of psychological and medical problems that can be exceptionally costly, not only economically, but also in terms of physical, emotional, spiritual and social suffering.

This week marks National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a time to promote public and media attention to the seriousness of these disorders. It's time to advance the public health agenda of eating disorder prevention so that we can reduce the incidence of these deadly diseases and restore quality of life to the people of America and beyond.

The diet industry markets their fads, promotes the notion of good foods and bad foods, terrorizes us with fears of becoming "fat," and hooks us on disregarding our hunger cues and body signals. To make matters worse, the fashion industry sells lies as it promises us to feel better if we fit in to our "skinny" jeans, and the advertisers bombard us with subliminal messages instilling us with a sense of inadequacy.

It's all getting worse as these industries get fat off causing the public a whole lot of suffering. On April 15, A Chance to Heal will host a groundbreaking national symposium in Philadelphia, bringing together researchers, policymakers, and educators in the field of eating disorder prevention to advance the public health agenda of eating disorders prevention. Prevention experts will help attendees focus on policy, advocacy & legislation, research & evaluation, health & social services, and education & training. There are certain to be many questions raised as well as suggestions for next steps toward making prevention of these disorders a concern of the past.

Imagine how much healthier we'd all be if public health efforts helped us learn how to tune in to our bodies hunger signals and feed ourselves with foods that satisfy; Imagine if these same efforts helped promote marketing campaigns that focused us on how to maintain a healthy weight rather that how to lose weight; Imagine if the outcome of these public health efforts transformed the culture of deprivation that leads to craving to become a culture that encourages positive body image, with health at many sizes.

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