The anorexia nervosa

Commercials and the young adolescent females with anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious problem all over the world, although this illness is not as prevalent as obesity regarding the number of patients. This paper studies the causes of anorexia nervosa occured in young adolescent females based on the perspective of commercial effect.

Introduction about the anorexia nervosa


Anorexia nervosa is one common kind of eating disorders which have been described as an epidemic of the 20th century( Wolf,1991). Eating disorder, the one which has been noted as the 'modern psychopathology of our culture' (Bordo, 1993), is a condition which affects an individual's eating habits, either as a result of their own doing, or as a bodily reaction to the consumption of food. And anorexia nervosa is that kind of psychiatric illness characterized by extreme, self-imposed weight loss-at least 15 percent of the individual's minimum normal weight. (Psychology book P375).

The situation of this problem

Young adolescent females are the most of victims of anorexia nervosa

The group at highest risk from anorexia nervosa is adolescent females, especially between 13 to 19 years of age. First of all, 90% of those afflicted by anorexia nervosa are females (American Psychiatric Association 1994). Secondly, from most of the research paper, anorexia nervosa usually starts at the age of 13 for young adolescent females and the condition largely affects them during the age of 16 to 20. Recent literature suggests that in children and adolescents, incidence rates are highest for females aged 15-19 years(van Hoeken, Seidell, & Hoek, 2003). As a result, this paper may target at the young adolescent females aged between 13 to 20 who have the risk to have anorexia nervosa or already have this problem.

The situation all over the world and Hong Kong

Anorexia has a incidence of between 8 and 13 cases per 100,000 persons per year and an average prevalence of 0.3% when a strict criteria for diagnosis is adopted(Bulik, Reba, Siega-Riz, Reichborn-Kjennerud,2005; Hoek, 2006). And the incidence of anorexia nervosa has increased over the past 20 years( Agras, Barlow, Chapin, Abel& Leitenberg, 1974). There is a statistic report for anorexia nervosa estimated 0.1% adults(USSG), 0.5 to 3.7% females(NIMH) and 1% of adolescent girls(NWHIC) have the problem all over the world. Considering Hong Kong situation, there is a statistic showing that about 6,855 people suffer from anorexia nervosa. (http://www.wrong

The impact of anorexia nervosa on adolescents and the family

Although we find that the number of the cases all over the world is not as big as other sickness or problems, it has serious impact on the individuals as well as their families. In the individual level, anorexia nervosa will cause physical illness like weight loss, lack of nutrition, interruption of regular menstruation, stomach problems, faint, insomnia, extraversion( Semin, Rosch,& Chassein, 1981) and thus the other symptoms like neuroticism( Furnham, 1984) and schizophrenia( Furnham & Rees, 1988). Generally speaking, adolescents who have this problem will develop more slowly then their normal peers. Their Intelligence as well will be affected( Sternberg, Conway, Ketran, & Bernstein, 1981). Besides, the above symptoms also lead to other behavior problems like delinquency (Furnham& Henderson, 1983), drug use disorder such as alcohol, cannabis dependence, and homosexuality (Furnham& Taylor, 1990), etc. Moreover, some psychological effects which also can be related to the cause of the problem reveal within the whole process which may last even for the whole life. For example, mood disorders---depression; anxiety disorders---obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and social phobia(Patrick, Cynthia, Jennifer,& Alison,1998). The most important thing is that it is quite possible that people who have anorexia nervosa when they are young will have a continuity of this problem into adulthood. Because of the depression and suffering, some patients even hurt themselves to relieve the pain from psychology. A few studies also suggested that suicide is the major cause of death among patients with anorexia nervosa (Patton, 1988; Santonastaso, Pantano, Panarotto, & Silvestri, 1991; Toltrup, Brinch, & Isanger, 1985)

For the family in which members have anorexia nervosa problems, usually the children, the relationship is at risk. As the adolescents have behavior problem and mood disorders, parents always do not know how to help and are worried about the health of the child. The traditional mind that those shameful things should not be disclosed to others prevents them asking professionals like social workers to help. Parents probably argue for the problem, feel guilt for themselves or just leave the child alone which might worsen the problem.

Considering the serious outcome and impact of anorexia nervosa, it is meaningful for the researchers to study the cause of this problem and eventually propose the possible solution according to the reason.

Cause analysis of anorexia nervosa on adolescent females

Until recently, there are many research papers about the reason why adolescent females have anorexia nervosa problem. It has been studied from different perspectives which consist of biological, psychological and sociocultural aspect and levels of analysis including individual, relational and societal factors. Although there are many psychological analysis about anorexia nervosa of young females, the literatures have focused primarily on quantitatively-based studies of the phenomena. So it is necessary for me to examine this topic with a qualitative way to know why the youth have anorexia nervosa problem. Also, commercial influence is a new and innovative perspective that relates to the anorexia nervosa. As the society as well as the economy has been developing, the value nowadays is held differently from the old days. Moreover, in Hong Kong or all over the world, the media has played an important role in leading people to choose the way they live, especially the commercials. As there are few researches about how commercials affect youth to see themselves and have a abnormal eating habit, I want to explain the relationship between this two aspects within a psychological perspective.

Sociocultural factors and Gender stereotype

Traditionally, Chinese culture appreciates for full figure,which represents wealth and healthy body, especially in Tang Dynasty. However, with the development of the society and the influence from western countries, the value gradually changes. Hong Kong, a special area which was colonized by United Kingdom for a long period of time, could be the first to assimilate the western ideas. Because of decades of Westernization, Hong Kong has gradually adopted many Western values and norms. We always can see the models of western countries are skinny and some news released to us that a few models were even sick or die from anorexia. Regarding gender stereotype, culture standard for man is strong, masculine, and tall while for women is gentle, slimmer and grace which is a pressure for women to be thinness. And gradually women are socialized to be more concerned about weight and shape. Besides, desirable personality traits are associated more frequently with slimmer rather than obese figures( Harris, Harris,& Bochner, 1982). As a result females focus more on the figure and others' impression.

Commercial impact

Faust(1983) raised the point that the media play a part in perpetuating societal preferences for female body shapes. Nowadays because of the value that I talked about above, many magazines showed a lot articles about the abnormal pattern of eating or dieting to lead female readers how to be thinner, television and radios advertise a lot about the product of losing weight like those showed in the bus or on the wall of the subway in Hong Kong. The advertisement always guarantee the effective outcome with the comparison of one girl who will be much thinner then before after using the product. Nowadays, the average person sees 400 - 600 advertisements a day, one in 11 of which has a direct message about beauty. Commercials' target are mainly women and young, because they are viewed as relatively irrational consumers. The advertisers just make use of the psychology of the female consumers and earn the profit brought by them.

Adolescent females' psychological analysis

First of all, Self-perception of body image is very important to this issue. The adolescents who have core cognitive distortions around the importance of weight and shape, body perception and appropriate food intake will probably have anorexia nervosa problems. Secondly, when they see the commercials, they want themselves to be the one showed in it and ignore the real self. They just want to achieve the same body-shape without judge themselves objectively.There is a discrepancy between the perceived body and the desired ideal body. There was a study to ask adolescents to choose 3 types of the people in the pictures which includes the one you think is yourself, the one you want to be, and the one whom males will like the most. Funny finding is that most of the females regard themselves are fatter then the ideal one. Thirdly, the finding relates to the body dissatisfaction which has been described as self-ideal discrepancy (Cash, Deagle,1997) with a big difference between perceived body image and ideal body image.

B. Social learning

According to social psychology, conformity is always an interesting explanation to the issue especially within a group. For the adolescent females, they always have their own peer groups which has an impact on the individual. When one or a few of them in the group choose to use the product in the commercial, others even those who do not believe that at first will also buy one in order to behave the same way as others. Similarly, the belief of beauty equates thin will be adopted one by one when showed through the commercials. Some people may become mob in the supermarket or even in the street. Adolescents who already believe that they have the necessity to lose weight or have a diet face the high risk of anorexia nervosa.

Prevention plan

There have been many research papers and suggestions of working with families or carers of adolescents who already have anorexia nervosa, and as a social worker it is really important to adopt all the possible and applicable sources to help the client with this illness especially regarding the serious impact on the client him or herself and the potential risk within the whole family. Anorexia nervosa is among the most difficult to treat of all psychiatric disorders (Halmi et al., 2005). So it is hard for me to give a therapy for them in a practical way as I am just a freshman in this field. Moreover, because there are less documentary about the prevention program for the individual so I want to give my suggestions regarding the prevention for the young adolescents group which has a high risk to have this problem.

Firstly, we should be clear about the early warning signs including secret dieting, dissatisfaction after lose weight, make new plan after attaining the previous goals, excessive exercise and interruption of regular menstruation. After recognizing the symptoms mentioned above, what we can do to prevent those potential patients are mainly focused on their cognitive development especially the balanced way of viewing the real self and ideal self about their figure. We help the adolescents to change their distorted body image.

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