Simon Fraser University


Vancouver campus workshops tackle eating disorders

April 8, 2008

Noted psychologist and author Michael Levine will lead a series of workshops at SFU’s Vancouver campus April 24-25 on eating disorders – the most widespread and destructive of all mental disorders among girls and women in affluent countries worldwide.

The workshops, sponsored by the SFU health sciences faculty’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) and the Looking Glass Foundation, will be of particular interest to educators and health-science professionals and students.

CARMHA health sciences professor Elliot Goldner, a former director of Eating Disorders in B.C. at St. Paul’s Hospital, says two to five per cent of young women and teenage girls have serious eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

A lesser but significant number of young men also struggle with the condition and many teens struggle with cycles of unhealthy dieting and negative body image.

Waiting lists for treatment in B.C. are so long that some young people with serious eating disorders have had to be sent to the U.S. for treatment, says Goldner.

“Our centre hopes that Levine’s workshop will help parents, families, teachers and health professionals develop prevention strategies to help mitigate a potentially deadly health problem that is increasing rapidly among youth.”

Levine, a psychology professor at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, has spent the last two decades studying how socio-cultural influences such as the mass media affect body image and perpetuate disordered eating. He says primary and secondary prevention programs are key to reducing the prevalence of eating disorders, especially among teens.

Primary prevention programs are designed to prevent eating disorders before they begin, says Levine, an internationally recognized leader in prevention and awareness.

Secondary prevention programs are designed to recognize and treat an eating disorder before it spirals out of control. “The earlier an eating disorder is discovered and addressed,” he says, “the better the chance for recovery.”

The vital component of Levine’s prevention programs is the cultivation of media literacy, which he defines as being more than an in-depth understanding of how media influence cultural attitudes and actions, such as the glorification of thinness and dieting.

Media literacy includes evaluating media’s positive and negative attributes, understanding how to protect oneself from the latter and using the media to promote a healthier and more flexible attitude about fashion, food and fitness.

By Carol Thorbes

Backgrounder: Curbing eating disorders

Michael Levine Psychology professor Michael Levine’s (left) concept of media literacy is vital to the success of the American National Eating Disorder Association’s GO GIRLS! Curriculum. The multi-lesson program cultivates young girls’ awareness and analysis of how the media’s promotion of body images perpetuates eating disorders. The program shows them how to engage in activism and advocacy work, and how to shift unhealthy media coverage of body images.

The Looking Glass Foundation is a non-profit organization that is working to create in B.C. Canada’s only non-profit full-service residential treatment centre for adolescents with eating disorders.

“There are more than 100,000 people in B.C. suffering from anorexia and bulimia,” says Deborah Grimm, vice-president of The Looking Glass Foundation. “We spend more on disability related to eating disorders than prevention of a disease that is the greatest killer among mental illnesses.”

CARMHA works to promote effective preventative strategies for maintaining good population health and is supporting the Levine workshop as part of its community service activities.

Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge-eating. The latter disorder is often related to the development of obesity, which is on the rise. Goldner says, “In recent Canadian studies, close to 25 per cent of the adult population has been found to be obese, resulting in substantive health risks and problems.”

The April 24 evening workshop is open to the public by donation ($20 suggested). It includes the following events in room 1700 Labatt Hall:
•    Thursday, April 24, 9 a.m. to noon session for health care professionals
•    Thursday, April 24, 7 to 9 p.m. evening for parents, friends, families and community members
•    Friday, April 25, 9 a.m. to noon session for community care providers.

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