UCSB’s Response to Rising Stats on Eating Disorders
by Danielle Shoshani


As many as 10 million women and 1 million men in the United States have an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. College campuses, in particular, continue to see drastic increases every year in the number of students who have body image issues and the numbers of those who will do what they feel is necessary to change their appearances. While anorexia and bulimia can affect people of any age, these diseases mostly affect young adults between the ages of 15 and 24, which is why many college campuses have created outreach programs and support systems for students.

The first eating disorder program in the UC system was created in 1983 when eating disorders were not as openly discussed. The creation of this program opened the door for people to learn more about eating disorders and available help. Since then, UCSB has expanded its program to include Peer Health Education. The Peer Health Education Program is based on the premise that college students influence each other, and the influence should be used to promote healthy lifestyles through educational activities.

“Personally, I know how much damage an eating disorder can do to one’s health and I really want to help bring awareness and let people know that there is help for them.” said third-year UCSB student and Healthy Eating and Living intern, Marisol Barragan. “I want students to know it’s okay to talk about eating disorders and find out more information.” The Healthy Eating and Living (HEAL) interns have been working together to educate students ab’out the consequences of eating disorders and about where to go for help.

“People with eating disorders will do whatever they can to try to control the way their bodies look, said Joanna Hill, staff adviser for the HEAL interns. “We have been seeing a trend both at UCSB and nationally. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have been rising at a somewhat consistent rate, while EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) has been increasing at a significantly faster rate.” EDNOS combines some of the criteria for both anorexia and bulimia. People diagnosed with EDNOS may switch among different eating disorders rather than fitting the criteria for only one.

In 1995 and 2002, the Health Education Department of the Student Health Service at UCSB conducted surveys to determine the severity of eating disorders and body image issues on campus. The survey showed that the number of students who fit the criteria for EDNOS increased from 11.2 percent in 1995 to 16.5 percent in 2002, while bulimia nervosa stabilized.

“My philosophy is that as the pace of life gets more and more frenetic, eating disorders mimic this, and are not as straight forward as they used to be,” said Hill. “California has gone extreme, and we’re in ‘now’ mode all the time.” This “now” mode seems to be taking a toll on men much more than it used to. In the 1995 survey, 14.4 percent of women and 4.3 percent of men at UCSB fit the criteria for EDNOS. Research from the 2002 survey showed that the percentages for women rose to 17.3 percent, while the percentages for men more than tripled to 14.6 percent. Although there may be many reasons for this alarming increase in EDNOS in men, the media plays a large role in determining how people feel about their bodies.

“A big part of eating disorders has to do with the media and Hollywood,” said Barragan. “When I suffered from an eating disorder, I wanted to have the body of my favorite celebrity. When you look at all the different magazines, all you can see is perfect people and I felt I did not look like any of them, which made me depressed. I think this is how most people feel even if they don’t have an eating disorder; the media still affects the way they feel about their body.”

When people think of negative media effects on body image, they tend to think of women’s magazines filled with pictures of stick-thin models in tiny bikinis. But many men’s magazines and other forms of media have the same effect on men through images of perfectly toned male models with enormous muscles. “I think media and consumer culture is catching up with men now, said Hill. “In the 50s, being strong was valued, but now it’s all about being huge, and ripped. Our society has become very external; we’ve bought into the idea that bigger is better for men and thinner is better for women.”

While our community seems to have an increasing authority over how men and women view their bodies, there are many ways to overcome this. For National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 23- February 27) this year, the HEAL interns put on a different event each day to educate people about the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and to promote positive body image.

“We’re trying to let people know that eating disorders are a serious issue. Our demographic here at UCSB is definitely affected by eating disorders, and it’s important for people to that there is help for them,” said first-year UCSB student and HEAL intern, Michael Abrouk. From holding up mirrors near the bike paths and shouting, “You’re beautiful!” to giving out educational pamphlets about eating disorders, the HEAL interns made sure to spread the word about eating disorders as best they could. 

It’s not easy to prevent such a complex disorder, especially in our society, but Hill still has a positive attitude.  

“The good news is that the world is cyclical,” she said. “So even though the percentage of people with eating disorders is high right now, there could be a backlash. There’s hope in therapy, there’s hope in education, and there’s hope in the kind of outreach programs we have here.”