health Insurance Article

The High Price of Eating Disorders

From obesity issues to media portrayals of body image and expectation, people are constantly bombarded by issues of weight and personal appearance. While this barrage affects people of all ages, genders, sizes, and upbringings, the demographic most noticeably affected by the topic of weight is adolescent girls, who are seeing a surge in struggles with a variety of eating disorders — seven in eight who suffer from an eating disorder are female, and 95% of all sufferers are between 12 and 25 years old.

The most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia, according to the Mayo Clinic, is characterized by not eating at all — you may notice someone refusing to eat, denying their hunger, and exercising excessively — and symptoms include fatigue, insomnia, dizziness or fainting, lack of menstruation, thinning hair, bluish fingers, social withdrawal, lack of sex drive, and irritability. Bulimia is characterized by food binges of much more than a normal meal or snack, followed by forcing oneself to throw up. Symptoms include over-exercise, forced vomiting, misusing laxatives, diuretics, or enemas, or using dietary or herbal products to induce weight loss. People with bulimia often refuse to eat in public, go to the bathroom right after meals, and typically have damaged teeth and gums as well as sores on their hands and knuckles.

An estimated 8 million Americans — or about one in 40 — have an eating disorder, but that number can only be an estimate as many cases are never reported. Like most mental illnesses, eating disorders are a difficult subject to broach, and often go unaddressed by many. When patients enroll in a treatment program, they will often undergo three to six months of treatment that can consist of a variety of treatment methods, from simple meetings with a psychologist to intensive nutritional monitoring, group sessions, and medication management. Treatments will address the physical and mental effects of anorexia, bulimia, and other disorders, along with many of the causes or affiliated mental disorders, such as perfectionism and depression.

What Does This Tell Us?

Eating disorders can be quite expensive to treat. The cost of treatment programs, depending on complexity of treatment and the length of time required can range from $30,000 to $180,000 — and that’s only if such disorders haven’t yet caused other bodily damages. Anorexia, according to the Mayo Clinic, can cause anemia, heart failure and other heart problems, bone loss, gastrointestinal problems, electrolyte abnormalities, and kidney problems. Bulimia can cause severe dehydration and kidney failure, heart problems, tooth decay and gum disease, digestive problems, and substance abuse. While some issues may be addressed in treatment of eating disorders, others may be medical issues that will need to be addressed separately — and at great cost.

The costs associated with treatment can keep people from addressing their issues and often cause people to forgo their treatment altogether. When eating disorders go untreated, the consequences can be deadly, and as the eating disordered demographics have shifted to include girls as young as eight or nine, the problem of overly expensive treatment for eating disorders needs to be addressed more than ever.

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