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Youth in rural communities may face a higher risk of eating disorders

Author Susan Burton struggled with disordered eating for decades. <em>"</em>Hunger was something that I believed protected me and gave me power," she says.
Anna Kurzaeva
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Author Susan Burton struggled with disordered eating for decades. "Hunger was something that I believed protected me and gave me power," she says.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa, nine percent of Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Depending on where you live, that number could be higher.

Youth in rural communities may face a greater risk of eating disorders than their counterparts in suburban communities. However, there is a lack of research to support the theory.

Dr. Samantha Hahn is a professor and population health researcher at the CMU College of Medicine.

She said, "there's been very few studies. I believe, to date, there's been about four studies that have specifically looked at eating disorder risk among rural youth. And the last one was in 2013."

"Unfortunately, there has been very, very little research done in this area, but there is kind of all evidence points towards rural youth being at increased risk for eating disorders, they have increased risk of a lot of the known risk factors."

Hahn said these risk factors include food insecurity, weight stigma, and lower access to healthcare and resources. She said eating disorders can affect every person.

"There's this what we call the swag stereotype, which is the idea that eating disorders only happen in skinny white, affluent girls... But the reality is, that swag stereotype is not all true. So eating disorders and disordered eating are actually more common among people with higher body weights... They are more common among people of color... Things like low socioeconomic status and poverty actually put people at increased risk for eating disorders and disordered eating. So it's not just people who are rich or wealthy. And girls are certainly not the only people to experience disordered eating and eating disorders."

Hahn said she believes one of the reasons people in rural communities could struggle with eating disorders more than people in suburban communities is because there is limited access to get treatment in rural communities.

"I'm really interested in exploring this population more to see what can we do to prevent eating disorders," she said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, it is important to know you are not alone. Help can be available at the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline. The number is 1-800-931-2237.

Ella Pierzecki is a freshman at Central Michigan University. She is majoring in Broadcast and Cinematic Arts and minoring in Journalism and Political Science. Ella is from Canton, Michigan where she loves to play with her dog. She is a huge baseball fan and loves cheering on the Detroit Tigers. At WCMU, Ella is excited to meet new people and develop her skills in journalism.