Is the Cause Genetic or Environmental?.
Eating disorders are complex conditions that are characterized by severe disturbances in eating behavior (DSM-IV, 1994). The two specific subtypes considered in this review are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. The major symptom of anorexia includes the refusal to maintain a minimally normal body weight. Anorexia also has a mortality rate of 10-15% (DSM-IV, 1994; Ades, Gorwood, Kipman, Mouren-Simeoni, 1999). Features associated with bulimia include binge eating and compensatory methods of weight control, such as purging. Eating disorders have previously been considered to be confined to Western culture, although recently they have been identified in non-Westernized societies such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia (Simpson, 2002). This spread across cultures has forced researchers to look beyond the hypothesis that eating disorders are due to the Western society's "fat phobia- (Simpson, 2002). Ades summarizes the fact that there are countless factors that may lead to the onset of such disorders, but the most profound evidence points to two factors: an inherited genetic predisposition to the disease and factors such as the socio-cultural influences from the environment (Ades et al., 1999). Thus, there is evidence supporting both genetic and environmental theories, along with evidence supporting the involvement of both factors. Nonetheless, there is still no definitive answer that can pinpoint the cause of these destructive disorders.
Factors such as familial and peer relationships, and the media have been shown to greatly influence the onset of eating disorders. Stressful life situations accompanied by a lack of coping skills, or media messages supporting an unrealistic image of weight and appearance are among the prevalent pressures facing young men and women. Media messages bombard society with the concept that "thin is in- which influences people to obsess with the size and shape of their bodies (National Eating Disorders Association, 2002).