One of the negative impacts of China’s economic growth is the alarming rise in eating disorders among the Chinese citizens.
Previously seen to be most prevalent in Western societies, the illness primarily blamed on media and societal affluence is growing while local services dedicated to treating it are barely catching up, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Eating disorder patients who are usually misdiagnosed and are often plagued by social stigma and given limited treatment options as local health experts are just beginning to understand the life-threatening condition.
One of the very few services dedicated to the illness is provided by Peking University hospital’s support sessions. Opened five years ago, it remains to be the country’s only closed ward for eating disorders.
“Are there enough treatment centers? Of course not,” Li Xueni, director of the Eating Disorder Center’s inpatient unit at Peking University Sixth Hospital told the LA Times. “Often after visiting, doctors come to the conclusion that they don’t have the necessary resources to establish another facility at their hospital.”
One patient, Ning Yaxian, started suffering from anorexia, a self-starvation syndrome, when she was just 14 years old.
“People think if someone is skinny, it means that she is very successful,” said Yaxian. After skipping several meals, she would tend to engage in compulsive binge eating, often leaving her with a feeling of guilt or disgrace, exhibiting signs of bulimia.
Yaxian’s condition began affecting her studies, eventually causing her to leave school. Her parents, although both doctors, failed to identify early on what was wrong. She is now 17 and about to enter senior year of high school again.
“The eating disorder patient in China is much more common than people think,” said Yaxian. “It’s very dangerous but no one is stopping them.”
Chinese doctors are looking less into how much Western values have caused such behaviors and more into the “broader effects of industrialization and shifting expectations for women.”
Global Mental Health Program at Columbia University executive director Kathleen Pike said that while Western cultures may affect in influencing what the Chinese youth may view as an ideal body type, “China has its own set of dynamics occurring that results in increasing risk.”
“Society’s pursuit of a certain body type or facial feature style is harming the youth a lot,” said Peking University professor Zhang Darong, one of the country’s leading experts on eating disorders. “It’s not necessarily a determining factor, but it’s definitely a contributing factor.”
What’s more pressing however, is the spike in the patients, which demand more facilities and centers.
Last year, Peking University Sixth Hospital treated about 250 patients, which is 10 times the number of patients treated by the entire psychiatric ward in the last decade.
The Shanghai Mental Health Center received 1,000 eating disorder-related consultations and admissions, its biggest recorded in the past five years.