March 10, 2015 Diane Ryan

Are Arizona teen eating disorders caused by climate?

Diane RyanA recent article in the February 28, 2015, edition of the Arizona Daily Star calls much-needed attention to the high incidence of eating disorders among southern Arizona teens. Arizona ranks second in the United States for teens who have purged as a method of weight control and has twice the incidence than the U.S. average, according to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, I must take issue with two of the article's conclusions. Firstly, the article attributes the prevalence of eating disorders to Tucson's climate. It quotes Dr. Nia Sipp, medical director for Sierra Tucson's eating disorders program, as saying, "Arizona has a lot of sunny, warm days and summer clothing is more revealing, which leads to more body image issues."

Perhaps Dr. Sipp's remarks were taken out of context. Although pressure to conform to cultural standards in body size complicates the challenges of acknowledging and recovering from eating disorders, body image alone is not responsible for their development. Eating disorders are a response to a complex set of factors, including genetic, neurobiological, social, developmental and relational. They are often associated with other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use, and may be linked to bullying and childhood trauma.

Secondly, the article claims that it is very difficult to find treatment for eating disorders in Arizona. Again quoting Dr. Sipp, "Young people can't find anyone to work with in the Tucson community," she said. "You can throw a stone and hit an AA group, but there are really no free eating disorder support groups."

Founded in 1991 and fully-accredited by Arizona Department of Health Services Office of Behavioral Health and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers offers residential and intensive outpatient treatment to both girls and boys ages 12 to 18, providing effective treatment to both adolescents and their families.

For teens, friends and family members concerned about eating disorders, the Mirasol website offers a wealth of information and an assessment that may shed light on symptoms and their severity. Additionally, Mirasol sponsors a weekly free community meeting for anyone who is struggling at our outpatient facility.

In light of compelling statistical trends, it is important to remember that eating disorders are the leading cause of death from any mental disorder, affecting males as well as females. Eating disorders contribute to serious medical complications across the life span. There is hope, however. Recovery is possible with ongoing support and high quality, evidence-based treatment.