Given the popularity of my post on how the media portrays eating disorders, I thought I’d do a follow-up entry by looking at more recent and comprehensive study on the topic. Specifically, I am going to review Shepherd & Seale’s 2010 paper, which built on the findings of O’Hara & Clegg-Smith, with a UK-focus. In particular, they: (1) compared UK and US media reporting of EDs, (2) tracked changes of in ED coverage over a 17-year period, and (3) studied the differences between newspapers with different target audiences.
Shepherd & Seale reiterate much of what O’Hara & Clegg-Smith wrote: ED specialists and researchers understand that EDs are complex, multi-factorial diseases with complex genetic and environmental underpinnings, that they are often associated with many medical complications and that they are hard to treat. The public, however, largely puts the blame on the patient and/or their parents, viewing it as a “moral failing… underestimating the severity and ease of recovery”, and viewing it as a largely young white female disease. (Unfortunately, some clinicians have this view of EDs as well).
Essentially, Shepherd & Seale …
Although clinicians (and medical professionals not specializing in eating disorders) often carry a lot of false beliefs about EDs, the public is even worse. Way worse. The portrayal of eating disorders in the news contributes to the myriad of myths and misconceptions that surround EDs. O’Hara and Clegg-Smith wanted to find out how exactly newspapers “contribute to shaping public perception of EDs.”
It is awful when doctors are dismissive and ignorant, but it is even worse when you encounter these attitudes from your friends and family. When they not only don’t get it, they don’t want to get it. As O’Hara & Clegg-Smith point out, this ignorance and “disconnect potentially prevents timely ED diagnosis and reinforces a stigma that limits treatment availability.”
While researchers and ED specialists increasingly understand that eating disorders are “caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors” (for example, evidence from twin studies suggests that genetic factors account for >50% of the risk for developing an ED), the public does not.
Surveys of what the public thinks about eating disorders and those struggling …