Link: The Strange, Contagious History of Bulimia

Interesting article here about the history of Bulimia, and the significant evidence that it is in fact a social contagion: that is that it is spread by awareness of the condition. Hence its explosion from relative non-existence, and (as the article discusses), even cases like Fiji, where there were no cases up until 1995: the year television arrived:

After just three years of exposure to American television shows, 11 percent of Fiji’s adolescent girls admitted to Becker that they had purged their food at least once to lose weight. In that time, the risk of developing an eating disorder jumped from 13 percent to 29 percent. More than 80 percent revealed that television influenced them or their friends to be more conscious about body shape or weight. By 2007, 45 percent of girls from the main island reported purging their food.

Even support groups – which effectively try and combat the social contagion by spreading healthier ones – can be vectors:

Further inquiry only seems to justify Russell’s troubling conclusion. In 2004, the British National Center for Eating Disorders reported that inpatient treatment and specialist units serve to create opportunities for exposure to the worst cases, allowing participants to catch more severe eating disorder symptoms, dangerous behavioral modeling, and harmful attitudes towards treatment that perpetuate well beyond the formal group therapy. Peeling back the processes even farther, the psychiatrist Walter Vandereycken examined ethnographic reports and qualitative investigations to find that sitting within close range of others exposes people to the worst cases and leads patients to unintentionally contend for the worst symptoms. Treatment, he reported, can do more damage than good by allowing the harsher and crueler strain to jump to new hosts.

In short, it’s a rather fascinating but troubling look at how the human condition is affected by mere awareness of ideas and habits, one with significant implications for other rapidly growing conditions (gender dysphoria, where referrals have increased by over 3,200% in a few years, being but one example). Unfortunately there seems to be little that can be done to reverse such things:

With this knowledge, Russell’s discovery took on characteristics of a pandemic that was set to claim 30 million people, but neither he nor anyone could do a thing at that point to stop it. He was confronted, he says, by a problem of entropy, a gradual decline into disorder with devastating implications for social contagions: once they are out, they are virtually impossible to rein it back in again.

Read the entirely thing at “The Strange, Contagious History of Bulimia”.

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