Eating disorders: recognition, pathogenesis, classification, management, and services for women with eating disorders

Rebecca Cashmore and Bob Palmer

in Oxford Textbook of Women and Mental Health

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

ISBN: 9780199214365
Published online July 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199640454 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Textbooks

Eating disorders: recognition, pathogenesis, classification, management, and services for women with eating disorders

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Eating disorders (EDs)—notably anorexia nervosa (AN)—have been recognized as clinical conditions since the 19th century. However, until the last 40 years, accounts were usually hidden away in the small print of medical textbooks. In contrast, EDs are now much discussed and commented upon even in the lay press. Most people know something about EDs. Many have opinions about them. Nevertheless, some prevalent attitudes tend to play down their importance as a public health problem. Thus, on the one hand, they may be viewed as severe but rare illnesses that mysteriously blight or even snuff out promising young lives. On the other hand, they may be thought of as common but trivial, merely an exaggeration of the shape and weight preoccupations of adolescent girls and of a few narcissists who perseverate such concerns to an age when they should know better. However, complicating matters further, there is sometimes a smidgeon of admiration of the control shown by people with AN evidenced by the quip, so often trotted out as if freshly minted, ‘Oh! Anorexia nervosa, I could do with a bit of that’. And sometimes there might be a whiff of misogyny in the downplaying of the problem of EDs which, although males can suffer from them, are clearly in the main afflictions of the female.

Of mental disorders that may affect people of either gender, the EDs have the clearest difference in prevalence between females and males. Studies show a consistent skew with typically a ratio of ten or more females to one male (Hoek and van Hoeken 2003; Button et al. 2008). EDs in males are sometimes missed but this is unlikely to be the main explanation. When males do develop EDs, their disorders usually closely resemble those in females (Button et al. 2008). So why are women and girls more vulnerable? The answer remains uncertain. Clearly males and females differ in many ways both biologically and psychosocially. It is less clear which of these differences account for the skew in risk of developing EDs.

Chapter.  5392 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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