Eating disorders on the rise

Kingston has seen a 40 per cent increase in the disorders

The increase in eating disorder patients has meant an increase in referrals to other clinics and regions.
The increase in eating disorder patients has meant an increase in referrals to other clinics and regions.

Eating disorders are up in Kingston, and post-secondary students make up a significant portion of the cases.

The number of people seeking treatment has risen by 40 per cent in Kingston over the past three years, according to doctors at Hotel Dieu Hospital’s Adult Eating Disorder Clinic.

“What we’re seeing across Ontario is an increase in referrals. We don’t have the evidence for it, but we think that the incidences are increasing as well,” said Dr. Susan Buchanan, a doctor at the clinic.

The increase in patient volume had led to waitlists of up to one year in some cases, she added, and patients have often been referred to other clinics and regions.

“The referrals in our programs are up and that has been climbing for about three years,” she said.

In the past five years, about 40 to 45 per cent of eating disorder patients Hotel Dieu has seen are students from both Queen’s and St. Lawrence College.

Buchanan said eating disorders often present themselves around the age of 15, which leads into the period of transition for many young people from high school to post-secondary education.

This added stress can lead to eating disorders in young people who are already experiencing anxiety or mental health problems, she said.

Symptoms include having excess quantities of food, feeling out of control when you eat and excessive exercising.

Symptoms also include extreme limitation on food intake, weight loss as well as a distorted or unhealthy body image.

“Eating disorders are an unhealthy relationship with food,” Buchanan said. “The person has a lot of anxiety in response to food.”

According to a 2002 survey, 1.5 per cent of Canadian women between the ages of 15 to 24 years of age have experienced an eating disorder.

Although it’s a mental health disorder, it has serious physical risks, Buchanan said.

Five to eight per cent of those diagnosed with an eating disorder will die by suicide, she added and it’s the mental health disorder with the highest mortality rate.

The physical complications of eating disorders affect all organs and its been found that women with anorexia will die an average 20 to 25 years earlier than their peers, she said.

Health, Counseling and Disability Services (HCDS) sees approximately 100 cases related to eating disorders or disturbed eating a year.

Dr. Mike Condra, director of HCDS, said not all students who come to HCDS can be categorized as having a full eating disorder as they don’t meet the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual.

These students are treated as having many of the symptoms and are classified as having disturbed or disordered eating.

Condra said he believes that there’s been a rise in the amount of eating disorder cases over the past 40 years since he’s been in the field.

“I’m willing to bet that there is hardly a women’s magazine that doesn’t, every month, feature something on how to lose weight,” he said. “I think those messages are really, really powerful because they help young people to develop a sense of identity.” Research has been done, Condra said, on comparing schools that emphasize either a strong academic focus or a strong physical focus (like a ballet or dance school). He said you will find a higher rate of eating disorders where students have a stronger emphasis on their body or weight.

In terms of the increase in cases treated in Kingston, Condra said he couldn’t comment on what the specific causes were, but he believes it could be in part that individuals now feel more comfortable coming forward with their problems.

“We can get a student in, if they’re concerned, typically within a few days, up to a week,” Condra said, adding that referrals can be made for students who require additional help.

‑— With files from Julia Vriend

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