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Eating disorder research lacks funding

By Mika Mandelbaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 20, 2005
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Surveys and statistics about eating disorders on campus would help health professionals develop new counseling and treatment strategies, but a nutrition counselor said the lack of funding is preventing such surveys from going around.

The only polling group on campus is Health Promotion at Campus Health Service, which receives federal grants to do health surveys for UA students.

But the terms of the grants require the surveys be mostly related to drug and alcohol use on campus, leaving little funding for surveys about eating disorders and other health issues, said Gale Welter, a nutrition counselor with Campus Health.

"Everyone recognizes the need and desires to (conduct surveys about eating disorders), but there's just not the resources," Welter said. "There's a lot that could be done if someone dropped a lot of money on us."

The information from surveys would provide health professionals with more information about the diseases and help them come up with new strategies to treat them.

"I'd like to ask people in recovery what it was that really made a difference," Welter said.

For now, Welter and other Campus Health professionals depend on national statistics, but she said she plans to find a way to gather information about eating disorders at the UA in the upcoming years.

"Somewhere in my future there will be a way to survey eating disorders on campus," Welter said.

Despite the lack of statistics, university officials are still aware of the prevalence of eating disorders on campus, said Leslie Marasco, director of the Women's Resource Center.

College is where a lot of people develop body image problems, especially because they are away from home and not eating healthy meals, Marasco said.

"This is definitely an issue on campus that we like to address," she said.

Physical appearance is also a high priority on this campus, which makes eating disorders and body image obsession more prevalent here than at other schools, Welter said.

"There is high body image sensitivity because it's out there," Welter said. "It's right in front of you and there's pressure to conform."

Campus Health and the Women's Resource Center co-sponsored a forum last night to show they are committed to spreading information about the problem.

The forum was organized to educate students about eating disorders and ways to help others who they think may have an eating problem.

Welter discussed the eating issues and body image continuum before introducing three speakers from Overeaters Anonymous who shared personal experiences and stories of their own eating disorders.

"It was really interesting to hear their accounts," said Adam Turner, a physics junior, who attended the forum to learn more about support for a friend.

Though the guest speakers each had different stories and disorders, they all emphasized that there are many available help options.

It is important for students to know that there are people and services available to help them deal with these issues, said Laura Orlich, a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services at Campus Health.

CAPS offers several cost-free services to UA students including triage, brief therapy, medical evaluations, referrals, educational groups and recommendations.

"I was really impressed. I really enjoyed what people had to say," said Emily Thompson, an anthropology sophomore.

Thompson said she knows people, including family members, who have eating disorders and thinks people who did not attend the forum should know that it's OK to admit to an eating problem and get help.

"You're not an alien or a disgusting person if you have an eating disorder," she said. "It's just something you have to deal with."

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