The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

Eating Disorders

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 8 September 2021, 09:57 Last update: about 12 days ago

A couple of weeks ago the internet was alight with the new promo for X-Factor, a very popular talent show to be broadcasted on Television Malta in the forthcoming autumn schedule.  It is a show that seems to draw a teenage audience. So far, no problem.  

The tricky bit however was in one of the promos.  


Some told me I was fussing and that I was making a mountain out of a mole hill when I expressed my disdain that the ad was depicting the programme anchor, Ben Camille, as dealing with his troubles (of not being on X-Factor) through what looked like binge eating and comfort eating (known also as emotional eating or bored eating).  True, the clip had a humorous pitch, but still questionable from where I stand.  When I sprung my concern with a psychiatrist and a couple of other professionals, who work closely with patients in this sector, they agreed that the ad was of bad taste and inappropriate and might have a masked impact especially on vulnerable people.  

Naturally, there is a separate debate on the power of advertising and how such seemingly behaviors by TV ‘idols’ can in actual fact encourage or normalize such knotty behavior – but that’s for another time. 

It is true we have invested (at the time the Malta Community Chest Fund) in Dar Kenn ghal Sahhtek, a highly specialized inpatient and outpatient service provision which is doing sterling work.  The entity’s operations are funded by the Ministry of Health, a very good model which is reaping some very good results.  I am privileged to sit on the Board of Governors and am always impressed at the good quality services and the success rate which I believe is based on two main factors; designing the service around the individual and locating the problem not within the person but within society.  

However, this is not enough.  The amount of people struggling with this issue is growing.

Recently Dar Kenn ghal Sahhtek in collaboration with the Faculty for Social Wellbeing embarked on a number of research projects intended to help us understand better this phenomenon and react expediently.  

A few months ago, there was also another piece of research commissioned by Dar Kenn ghal Sahhtek to the Faculty which was shared for public consumption.  It surfaced several worrying statistics indicating clearly that the problem is now starting to affect children at a younger age.  Eating disorders, (for example, anorexia, which has the highest mortality risk of all eating disorders) needs to be dealt with expediently because it seems to be affecting people at a much younger age.  In this study we examined the prevalence of eating disorders in children between 10 and 16 years in Malta and Gozo.  The study examined the eating habits of children by looking at for example whether they are afraid of putting on weight or whether they count calories. The surprise statistic was that 5.5% of the sample seems to indicate the presence of an eating disorder almost equally between males and females.  It also emerged that Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder are the most-known forms of eating disorders.  One other eating disorder which is unfortunately becoming increasingly prevalent especially amongst young children is ‘Selective Eating’ or what it is now being referred to as ‘Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)’.  

All of this indicates that we are at an important juncture when it comes to eating disorders which impacts the person inside out and their family nonetheless.     

Eating disorder behavior seems to cut across socio-demographic strata amplified by a society that keeps pushing people to be who they compounded by potential intrinsic mental health challenges the individuals might have as well. 

Whatever it is, we do need to engage with more research to determine the possible presence of other influencing factors that impact eating disorder behavior.  

It seems that we are constructing a society which is low on tolerance, prescriptive on how people should look and behave and this negative role modelling is seeping down to our children.  We are morphing into a society which is selective and choosy. 

To solve this issue, we need to strengthen our resolve.  Educators, social operators, therapists, medical practitioners together with survivors and family members need to bring their heads together and come up with solutions. 

We also need to make sure that the basics are not going unattended.  I believe that we need to have not only quality but quantity time for children to talk, express their feelings and communicate their concerns – without being time-barred. 

We need to dedicate space where children can express themselves so that they can share their concerns.  

The never-ending hours at school are another variable which concerns me and which we need to study thoroughly. 

We need media literacy as a fundamental topic in our curriculum and we need to invest in critical thinking.  

We need to help children understand that they are good enough.

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