Medicare stepping in to help counter eating disorder epidemic

It’s an alarming statistic. Approximately 1 million people in Australia have an eating disorder. And it’s due to these alarming numbers that for the first time ever, people with severe eating disorders have access to a comprehensive treatment plan under Medicare for the first time, including up to 60 appointments with psychologists and dietitians.

In a report from the Sydney Morning Herald this week, patients with serious psychiatric conditions including anorexia and bulimia will be able to access up to 40 subsidised psychological services and 20 dietetic services each year from November 2019, the Morrison government announced on Sunday.

Health minister Greg Hunt said the $110 million investment over four years was the largest single step forward in support for people with eating disorders, the SMH reported.

According to the Butterfly Foundation (the Foundation for Eating Disorders), which has welcomed the Morrison Government’s initiative, has stated that some of the causes that lead to eating disorders are genetic vulnerabilities, psychological factors and socio-cultural influences. The fashion industry with its presentation of models whose bodies are like skeletons coated in a sheath of skin have contributed immeasurably to a society transfixed by impossible, unattainable and unhealthy body images which are represented by beauty icons who serve as role models in society.

As far back as 2012, countries such as France and Israel implemented legislation to try to counteract these unhealthy stereotypes.

In Israel, a law took effect that year which aimed at preventing fashion models from losing weight to the detriment of their health and the well-being of others inclined to follow in their footsteps.

The legislation stipulated that fashion and commercial models are required to have a body-mass index of at least 18.5. A 5-foot-8 (172cm) adult weighing 120 pounds (54.5kg), for instance, has a BMI of 18.2, disqualifying him or her from pursuing a modelling career within Israel.

There was also a "Photoshop law" introduced demanding that computer-generated changes to make models appear thinner be noted along with the images, making readers aware that the images they were looking at were not actually real.

"It is a known fact that there is a genetically inherited cause to eating disorders," Israeli psychiatrist Dr Adi Enoch-Levy said. "In spite of that, observations show that eating disorders have spiked in number together with the exposure to the modern media, the same media which brings to many homes the fashion shows and commercials.

"It is also a fact that mainly anorexia cases have appeared in societies not previously exposed to images of the 'ideal physique.'"

In a positive move, according to an article from The Cut, this year’s Victoria’s Secret fashion show suffered its worst ratings in its broadcasted history. USA Today reported that the show was only watched by 3.27 million people, and over the course of two years, Victoria’s Secret has lost half of its television audience, despite the number of top musicians and models involved in the production.

It’s perhaps a positive start in the move away from impossible fashion ideals. Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric illness, with suicide the leading cause of death among these patients, the SMH report revealed, with anorexia the deadliest mental health condition in Australia.


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