Increased awareness is necessary to combat the eating disorder epidemic that Hong Kong and China are facing.
The West is in the grip of an eating disorder epidemic. Fueled by an obsession with perfection and a culture which prizes extreme forms of beauty, more and more Westerners are falling prey to damaging body image disorders which cause them to take extreme measures. Young men and women starve themselves or purge themselves in an effort to become thin, while young men are increasingly being affected by a condition known colloquially as ‘Bigorexia’, in which they become so obsessed with sculpting their muscles that their lives and lifestyles suffer, and they become vulnerable to the lure of steroids. Disorders like anorexia are growing fast, with some children under five being admitted to hospital suffering from such conditions. But what has this got to do with Hong Kong? Our diet is good here, and we are not prey to the same kinds of pressures that affect Westerners. Are we? In fact, the evidence shows that eating disorders are becoming a major problem in China – with Hong Kong particularly vulnerable to the scourge – and it’s our children and young people who are bearing the brunt.
Hong Kong is going through a period of change. As a whole, China’s economic boom has seen many families become extremely comfortable – which has in turn changed the character of the nation somewhat. Though China may like to think of itself as a reasonably healthy and sensible nation, the fact is that it’s now the world’s number 2 for obesity, outflanked only by the Americans. As in America, this is partially due to marketing, which also impacts upon the body image of vulnerable young people. Greater disposable incomes means that there is more money to be made – and selling people ideals of beauty is a time-honored way of getting people to part with cash. Advertisers thus go out of their way to convince people that beauty is tremendously important, and that they aren’t beautiful enough – but can achieve physical perfection by buying their product. The results of this can be seen in China’s booming plastic surgery market, and its huge cosmetics industry. However, there is a more insidious and harmful side to this. Convincing people that they aren’t beautiful enough can lead them to take drastic measures, and a demon lurks within the human brain which may well grip hold of certain people given the right provocation. The demon of eating disorders is a mental illness, the propensity for which may lie dormant in many of us. If triggered, however, it can cause untold devastation to the bodies and minds of its hosts. Hong Kong, with its highlighted billboards o every building portraying airbrushed beauty is fast becoming a breeding ground for body image issues.
Eating Disorders In Children
More and more young Hong Kong people are being admitted to hospital for the treatment of conditions like anorexia and bulimia. Starving yourself or purging yourself can have very serious physical consequences and are frequently emotionally devastating for everyone involved with or close to the sufferer. Their willingness to essentially starve themselves to death is bewildering and heartbreaking, and the disorder can be very hard indeed to understand if you’re not a sufferer yourself. Anorexia in particular is growing fast within our city, and adolescent girls are most at risk. Strange though it may seem for something that’s generally thought of as a profligate Western illness, China’s own culture may be working against these young people. Perfectionism and feeling a lack of control are both known to contribute towards the development of eating disorders. China has a culture of firm parental pressure and perfectionism, which frequently reaps academic and social rewards for the children of Hong Kong. However, for those who are vulnerable to eating disorders, feeling under pressure to achieve perfection, and out of control of one’s life can – when triggered by growing media demands for beauty – trigger the development of anorexia or bulimia.
What Can Be Done?
Awareness of these disorders and the issues surrounding them is not as high as it could be within Hong Kong. Many Hong Kong parents are unaware of the social and cultural pressures which may be affecting their children, and may be oblivious to the signs of a burgeoning eating disorder. If your child starts acting strangely around food, obsessing about their body and looks, talking about being too fat a lot, or losing weight fast, it may be time to talk gently to them about any issues they might be experiencing. Eating disorders can be extremely hard to treat – but if caught early then there is every chance that their sufferers will make a full recovery.
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