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Thousands of North Dakotans Struggle with Eating Disorders

July 2, 2012

FARGO, N.D. - Most people worry about how they look as they head out the door each day, but for thousands of North Dakotans, a distorted body image actually is a serious medical problem.

Dr. Jim Mitchell at the Neuropsychiatric Research Institute, Fargo, says there is a mental health issue, not a lifestyle choice, at the heart of eating disorders.

"These disorders also have a strong hereditary component. For example, we know the majority of the risk for anorexia nervosa is biologically determined. They are real illnesses and they're very serious. In particular, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder."

Mitchell says treating those with eating disorders can be very difficult, and the patients often have other mental-health issues at the same time.

"They have very high rates of co-morbidity, depression most commonly, but also anxiety disorders. Also, subgroups of anorexia patients and all patients with bulimia also have higher-than-expected rates of substance abuse and alcohol abuse."

It's estimated that around 7 million women and 1 million men in the United States struggle with an eating disorder. The most common are anorexia and bulimia.

More information is available at

John Michaelson, Public News Service - ND