This month saw many articles competing for the news spotlight - the majority were, of course, all related to the Soccer World Cup. However, amidst the soccer euphoria there was one grim article which brought the festivities to a temporary halt: the deeply disturbing news that anorexia sites are booming on the internet.
Anorexia has been around for such a long time that most of us have become desensitised to it, and regard it as something out there - far away from our own daily lives. The internet, on the other hand, has become an integral part of our world - a vital communication tool without which most of us wouldn’t be able to survive for even a day.
It was only a question of time until a devastating eating disorder such as anorexia would find a firm supporters' base on the ever-expanding internet - complete with tips on how to hide the illness from your loved ones and how to starve yourself with greater "success" - but when that day arrived, we were still caught off-guard. What we've chosen to ignore, the internet has brought into our homes and workspace, and this time we cannot look away.
According to a recent study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, a US team of researchers reviewed 180 pro-eating disorder websites. About 91% of these sites were open to the public, 85% contained so-called "thinspiration" (pics and videos of very thin models and actresses) and about 43% provided specific instructions on concealing eating disorders. Very few of these sites talked about recovery.
The internet has turned into a tool for people who want to use anorexia as their identity and who want to connect with others like them, one of the researchers said. If you can find a community of people who think likewise, it reinforces what you are doing is OK - there’s safety in numbers!
So, what are we to do? Though search engines Yahoo and MSN agreed to shut down overtly pro-eating disorder sites in 2001, it didn't make much of a difference. The online content for people with eating disorders has just become more sophisticated over time - the web is now flooded with videos, voice-overs, blogs and Facebook groups.
The best thing we can do, is to start an awareness campaign in our own homes and in our immediate community. Do you know what your kids are doing on the internet? Do you know who they're chatting to on Facebook? Have you taught your children healthy eating habits and do they know the dangers of eating disorders such as anorexia? Are you setting a good example? How do you feel about your body? How do your kids feel about their bodies? Do you have a close friend who has become socially isolated and is obsessed with unhealthy weight loss? Do you know the symptoms of anorexia?
We can no longer ignore anorexia. Let's become pro-active and start a new trend today.
(Birgit Ottermann, Health24, Nutrition Newsletter, June 2010)