Friday, August 21, 2009

Have you ever been on the receiving end of weight-based discrimination?

If so, I'd like to hear from you. I'm doing a story for the NY Times science section on this and would like an anecdote or two, especially having to do with work, jobs, etc.

Email me at harriet at harrietbrown dot com.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What the World Eats

Today I stumbled onto this fascinating excerpt from a book called Hungry Planet, which was serialized on the Time magazine website when it came out a few years ago. Photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D'Alusio visited 30 families in 24 countries to research this collection of portraits. Each family is shown with a week's worth of food, along with the cost of that food (in local money and in U.S. dollars), plus a list of the family's favorite foods and/or recipes.

The photos are eye-opening, literally, especially when you compare, say, the abundance and variety of foods eaten by a family of four in Germany (cost: about $500 a week) with the much more meager and monotonous foods eaten by a family of five in Chad (cost: $1.23). The lists of favorite foods include everything from rice to polar bear to pastries.

There's something quite wonderful about the way these photos show us, without posturing or judgment or politics, each family's relationship with food. I was especially captivated by this as I've been contemplating a similar personal photo project. But this is so much better.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is Your Child One of the 12 Percent?

One of the things you hear a lot these days--at least if you spend any time talking to doctors about eating disorders--is that they affect a relatively small number of kids. Prevalence rates for anorexia are usually quoted as .5 to 1 percent, and 3 to 6 percent for bulimia. (Binge eating disorder is a newer diagnosis; I've heard 3 percent for BED but don't know if it's accurate.) Which somehow makes them less worthy of attention, concern, and research money than, say, childhood obesity, which as we all know is public healthy enemy #1. (That's sarcasm, y'all.)

But a new study out of University of Texas at Austin shows that fully 12 percent of all adolescents experience some form of eating disorder. That's 12 out of 100. Which may not sound like much.

But consider that 1 out of 15,000 kids gets cancer of some kind, and think about the attention and research and money devoted to understanding and treating childhood cancers. Then think again about the number: 12 percent.

It sounds a lot bigger now.

One of the pervasive problems in treating eating disorders is a lack of effective treatments. We need more research, which needs we need more research dollars. One reason we don't get those dollars is that families are often reluctant to acknowledge that their child has an eating disorder because of the stigma associated with these illnesses.

Cancer used to carry a lot of stigma, too. As a culture we've mostly gotten over that. How about we start challenging the stereotypes around eating disorders? Parents could be amazing advocates, if only we were willing to stand up and say, "Yes, my child is one of the 12 percent--now what are we going to do about it?"

How about it?

Monday, August 17, 2009

See you in . . . October?

For those of you in the D.C. area, I hope you'll join me and some very special guests at a conference on eating disorders, hosted by Maudsley Parents. This half-day get-together features two of the leading researchers in the field of eating disorders, both of whom are accessible, compelling speakers. Daniel le Grange heads up the University of Chicago's Eating Disorders Program; Walter Kaye directs the University of CalIfornia-San Diego's program.

Dr. le Grange will discuss family-based treatment (the Maudsley approach) for both anorexia and bulimia. Dr. Kaye will give us insights into the neurobiology of eating disorders. And I'll share my family's story and offer parents specific strategies and tips for helping a child through an eating disorder.

You can find more information and sign up for the conference here. (If you sign up before September 14, the cost is only $25 per person.) I hope to see you there!