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Survey of Higher Education Professionals Shows Increase in Prevalence of Eating Disorders on Campus, Student Unwillingness to Seek Treatment

Recent research shows that eating disorders on college campuses are increasing in prevalence across the U.S., students are unwilling to seek treatment, and many campuses lack the resources to assist students with these diseases. These trends were revealed in a March 2010 survey of higher education professionals conducted by Eating Recovery Center (http://bit.ly/a4ZHKq), a licensed and Joint Commission accredited behavioral hospital providing comprehensive treatment and sustainable recovery for eating disorders, and the Enrollment and Retention Services Division of EducationDynamics, higher education’s leading marketing and information services company dedicated to helping institutions find, enroll and retain students.

The eating disorder survey was completed by 108 higher education professionals from across the U.S. The majority of respondents are employed by public, four-year and private not-for-profit four-year universities. However, private for-profit four-year, private two-year and vocational institutions were also represented. Counseling staff represented 42 percent of survey respondents, with Student Health and Wellness and Student Affairs professionals representing the remaining majority.

“The two major life transitions that most commonly contribute to the onset of an eating disorder are puberty and leaving for college,” said Kenneth L. Weiner, MD, CEDS, founding partner and medical director of Eating Recovery Center. “The survey’s finding that students are not seeking help is alarming – especially considering the fact that eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness.”

Among 108 respondents from higher education institutions across the country, 57 percent believe that there is an increasing trend in the number of college students with eating disorders (http://bit.ly/a4ZHKq). In addition:

• 48 percent of respondents estimate that less than five percent of their college student population either has or displays signs of an eating disorder;

• 37 percent estimate that six to 10 percent of students have or display signs of an eating disorder;

• 11 percent estimate that 11 to 20 percent of students have or display signs of an eating disorder; and

• three percent of respondents estimate that 21 to 30 percent of students have or display signs of an eating disorder.

Although respondents indicated that eating disorders are increasing in prevalence on their campuses, 80 percent of respondents felt that their institution’s eating disorder resources (http://bit.ly/a4ZHKq) are sometimes, rarely or never used. Furthermore, nearly 40 percent of respondents also rated the eating disorder resources provided by their college or university as inadequate or non-existent.

When asked what the staff and faculty identify as barriers preventing students from seeking treatment, higher education professionals point to the following:

• Students are unwilling to seek treatment (82%)
• Students do not know that they have an eating disorder (48%)
• Students lack awareness of school's treatment resources (34%)
• Students are embarrassed to seek treatment (28%)
• Campus lacks on-campus treatment resources (28%)
• Perceived lack of anonymity in treatment (23%)
• Staff and faculty do not know where to refer students (18%)
• Students do not need to seek treatment (8%)

“These findings make clear both the growing prevalence of eating disorders on college campuses throughout the country and the significant barriers that prohibit students from seeking treatment,” stated John Mathew, president of EducationDynamics’ Enrollment and Retention Services Division. “In our own programming for student health and wellness, we find that students are increasingly drawn to the more anonymous and interactive resources such as the self-assessment Eating Disorder Scale: Are You at Risk (http://bit.ly/dBR8l1)?”
Eating Recovery Center and EducationDynamics are currently producing a college eating disorder white paper that discusses the survey results in further detail and provides resources and tactics for improving student access to eating disorder resources. The white paper will be available in early August.

To request a copy, please contact Eating Recovery Center (http://bit.ly/a4ZHKq) or visit http://www.educationdynamics.com/EDD/ContactForm.aspx.

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