Worth the weight

In recent surveys, 28% of girls in grade nine said they regularly engage in various types of weight loss behaviours, principally among them anorexia, bulimia, and binge dieting. 40% of girls in grade ten think of themselves as “too fat”, and when a group of students in grades seven to 12 was interviewed, 25% of boys and nearly a third of the girls said they’ve been teased by classmates about their weight. Many say they’ve been taunted at home as well.

“Many factors contribute to the development of eating disorders including societal, family and individual concerns,” explains Dr. Ann Laverty, Associate Director of Counselling in the University of Calgary’s Wellness Centre. “Some post-secondary students arrive on campus with a history of eating disorders while others develop eating issues as they address issues of transition and related emotional distress.”

In an effort to combat the drastic measures some take to achieve what they perceive to be perfection, Eating Disorder Awareness Week was established. National organizations work to educate the public on the relationship between dieting, body dissatisfaction, and eating disorders, with the goal of increasing awareness of the factors causing individuals to develop the range of eating disorders. This year in Canada, Eating Disorder Awareness Week will be held from Feb. 6-12.

Dr. Shelly Russell-Mayhew, an associate professor in Educational Studies in Psychology in the Faculty of Education, will address the issue of body image in her talk, “Worth the Weight? Eating disorder awareness in a fat-phobic culture,” on Tuesday, February 8. Her graduate students in the Faculty of Education will also showcase their research into the topic of eating disorders at a reception following the talk.

“With the attention on the so-called epidemic of obesity and the focus on weight, particularly weight- loss, it is no wonder that even normal weight children and youth are ‘feeling fat’ and trying to diet their way into feeling better,” says Russell-Mayhew. “The pressure to fit-in has become enormous and the standards of beauty more and more unattainable. It is time to shift our focus from weight to health.”

Shelly Russell-Mayhew and her students, as well as Ann Laverty, will be available for media interviews on Monday February 7; media are also invited to attend the talk on Feb. 8.