Disorder’s unclear cause renders dissenting discussion

By Jessica Wettig

A recent news article has targeted the way people look at eating disorders.

ABC News issued an article describing 6-year-old “Sophie,” a first-grader who was diagnosed with anorexia, an eating disorder characterized by starvation and overexercising. The article stated parents, media and social factors do not cause eating disorders, and there is no reasoning behind the disorder’s causes.

However, the article portrayed eating disorders as more of a mystery than many campus officials agree with.


Emeritus sociology professor Kathy Ward said the media should be careful when reporting stories such as these because one article can make an audience believe something that is not a trend. The story deals with one case, she said, and more research should be conducted because eating disorders are complicated.

“I wouldn’t touch (the article) with a 10-foot pole,” she said.

Ward said part of the 6-year-old’s case most likely deals with images exposed to young girls. Eating disorders are also based on control, she said, and sometimes when a person feels like their life is out of control, they feel the only thing they can control is what they eat, something especially true for women.

However, Ward said enough information isn’t provided about the family to analyze how this child developed anorexia so young.

Abby Bilderback, Eating Disorder Outpatient Program staff counselor, said she believes the article is misleading. Bilderback said eating disorders most commonly start in adolescence or early adulthood. Multiple traumas such as divorce or sexual issues can cause an eating disorder, she said, and there is no single cause, cure or warning sign to define them. Culture sends messages about how one’s body should look, she said

“If we’re exposed to (messages) through TV, through magazines, things like that, a lot of times that’s glamorized — to look a certain way or to be a certain way,” she said. “That can have an impact on individuals, on their own view of their body and the way that they feel about their body.”

Bilderback said just because a person is picked on as a child or has one kind of traumatic experience, does not mean they will develop a problem. However, she said, it usually does not result in anything positive, and each message and experience has its own unique impact on a person.


“There is a strong prevalence rate for college students, ages 18-24, for eating disorders, although what is not common is seeking treatment,” she said.

Bilderback said her perspective as a counselor is limited because people do not seek treatment until their illness’ later stages. Treatment is a process, and she is a small piece of that process, she said.

Students said the media, as well as parents, could be anorexia risk factors. One student experienced the issue firsthand.

Charlotte Key, a sophomore from Mt. Vernon studying zoology, said she was treated for anorexia when she was 15 years old.

Key said she was teased as a teenager and sought anorexia treatment when her parents and school officials noticed her problem.

“Now I think I’m too thin,” she said, as she described herself as someone with a high metabolism.

Key said she is shocked a 6-year-old would have such a problem.

“It has to be the parents,” she said. “What (images) are they allowing her to see?”

Amber Blackert, a sophomore from Mineral studying zoology, said part of the problem is today’s Disney Channel programming. Girls idolize the characters on today’s TV shows, she said.

“(Little girls) don’t want to be princesses anymore,” she said. “They want to be teens.”