UH unequipped to address National Eating Disorder Awareness Week


Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week — Feb. 22 through 28 — came and went without UH batting an eyelash. The importance of this week and of promoting awareness of eating disorders in general stems from the peril of those suffering from this disorder, especially among the youth that make up the majority of a college campus.

“Eating disorders have a very high mortality rate and strike young adults most commonly,” said Dr. Kenneth Arfa, a psychiatrist at the UH Student Health Center. “85 percent of people have their eating disorder diagnosed by age 20. Only 10 percent, however, seek help.”

UH’s lackluster actions

At UH, there are various departments that should directly deal with eating disorders. Among these are the Women and Gender Resource Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Wellness Center, the Student Health Center and the Recreation Center.

But none of these departments did anything special for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, nor do they do anything extraordinary year round to promote awareness.

“Honestly, the WGRC hasn’t really done any programming around eating disorders,” said Malkia Hutchinson, WGRC program coordinator. “Also, I don’t have anything planned for Eating Disorder Awareness Week. As of right now I’m the only person working at the WGRC. Although there are many issues that I would like to shed light on, I just don’t have enough time or resources to do so.”

The WGRC isn’t the only department at UH unable to take a step to help in this critical medical area. Director of CAPS Dr. Norma Ngo said that CAPS is currently short-staffed, and this was the first year UH has not done a screening day. However, she said “the students with eating disorders are best served by referring to a facility that specializes in the intensive care that is required.”

“We are not equipped to provide the intensive, multidisciplinary treatment required for eating disorders due to our limited resources,” Ngo said.

Eating disorders explained

According to The National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorder types can range from anorexia nervosa to bulimia nervosa to binge-eating disorder.

Anorexia involves “inadequate food intake leading to a weight that is clearly too low … (and) intense fear of weight gain, obsession with weight and persistent behavior to prevent weight gain,” among other symptoms. Binge-eating involves “frequent episodes of consuming very large amounts of food but without behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting … (and) a feeling of being out of control during the binge-eating episodes.”


According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa Associated Disorders, 25 percent of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

All types of eating disorders can cause death if not treated. NEDA reported that “a review of nearly 50 years of research confirms that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.”

NEDA sponsors National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and according to nedawareness.org, the goal of this week is to “put the spotlight on the seriousness of eating disorders and to improve public understanding of their causes, triggers and treatments.”

“If someone is exhibiting signs or thoughts of struggling with an eating disorder, intervening during the early stages of development can significantly increase the likelihood of preventing the onset of a full-blown eating disorder. It also leads to greater chances of a full recovery. It can prevent years of struggle and can even save lives.”

Is it that hard?

To take part in this program, UH could have tweeted about Eating Disorder Awareness Week and posted a link to nedawareness.org, where resources and support would be waiting.

NEDA will send free posters for raising awareness; does UH not have the manpower to send someone around campus putting up posters?

Director of the Metropolitan Volunteer Program Tiara Parks said that MVP incorporated “Theme Weeks” this year, in which the organization chooses different topics of awareness to focus on each week.

“After doing research, I don’t believe we were aware of Eating Disorder Awareness Week,” Parks said. “It would also be very difficult to find volunteer opportunities centered around this topic as that is what we strive to have during these weeks.”

But during Education Week, which came right before Eating Disorder Awareness Week, the organization was able to put together screenings; during Sex Week, they had booths and meetings to promote awareness of safe sex.

It sounds like putting together activities for Eating Disorder Awareness Week should not be considered difficult by those willing to put forth the necessary time.

Where we go from here

Perhaps if the University focused less on a multi-million dollar stadium and more on the health of its students, the proper effort could be put forth.

CAPS is downsized, and yet they still only charge $5 per individual therapy session. The WGRC is down to one person. Student medical services are inexpensive, still focused on the well-being of the students, while cuts are simultaneously limiting their variance and reach.

“While the University has not planned any special programming for Eating Disorder Awareness week, efforts to educate and promote awareness are an ongoing focus of our daily activities,” said Reuben Parrish, assistant director of health education at the UH Wellness Center. “With staff changes in Wellness and CAPS, we did not have the opportunity to plan special programming this year. We hope to resume these important programs in the future.”

Eating disorders are deadly. When it comes to saving the lives of the people who suffer from eating disorders, it is integral to give them a voice.

Eating disorders are a taboo subject, resulting in apathy when it comes to awareness and support. With people dying, one cannot take this illness lightly.

According to nedic.ca, “Eating disorders are perceived by the general public as being self-inflicted, that these individuals should easily be able to pull themselves together and that they have only themselves to blame for their illness.”

UH health departments typically refer those who suffer from an eating disorder to outside resources. And this is fine, as there are a lot of helpful people and organizations outside of UH that are willing to provide assistance; however, getting to that point of asking for help is difficult, so help needs to come in all forms and at all stages.

There are small things that could be done now that would go a long way toward helping to push the UH community in the direction of better mental health. An eating disorder support group could be put together by UH; it could be run by professionals or just by those who have recovered from an eating disorder.

Either way, it would be a great place for people to come together to talk and to feel less alone.

Without proper funding, it can be hard to make a real difference when it comes to eating disorders. But a medical professional, and anyone involved with a university, should be willing to make as much of an effort to reach out to those who suffer. Those suffering from this disorder need to understand that there is someone to talk to and that there is a brighter future if they want it.

Opinion columnist Henry Sturm is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected].


  • Great article Henry. Eating disorders, having both a physical and mental component, are not well understood by the general population. More awareness is the beginning of change! Do you have any statistics on what percentage of the population in the UH student age group are potentially dealing with these issues?

  • As someone who struggles with Anorexia Nervosa, I really appreciate you writing this article. I was diagnosed with my eating disorder my senior year of high school, although it turns out I had had one since 6th grade. I did not know I had a problem and that seems pretty common amongst those that struggle with Anorexia Nervosa. I have been in treatment for 4 years now and still struggle everyday. I agree that UH is not equipped to help someone with an eating disorder. However, because of the illness, people with eating disorders really do need to see a specialist for treatment. I think the least UH could do is gather a list of treatment facilities to recommend students to.
    As far as I am concerned, Houston in general is not equipped with treatment facilities to help someone with an eating disorder. I see a dietician at one of the only facilities in Houston that specialize in helping those with eating disorders. In high school, I had to go to Arizona inpatient treatment because that was the closets/best place. For a city with the largest medical center in the world, this is kind of upsetting. In instills a sense of hopelessness in a population of society that already struggles with depression/anxiety.

  • Looking forward and hoping for a day that others learn from us by being a unique university that talk, participate, discuss and research different issues that affect our city, state, nation and our world. One day hopefully, we will think and act like a great leaders that create an atmosphere to generate a great leaders.

  • Intensive out patient, partial hospitalization and inpatient levels are available in the state of Hawaii 0n Maui. ( AiPonoMaui.com) Perhaps there will be more of a collaborative effort between UH in the future. Until then we have to rely on grass roots level of communication. Spread the word!

  • I’m sorry UH doesn’t put aside it’s own time to address every single group of troubled people on the face of the planet. It is completely okay if they can’t round up enough resources to throw awareness for everything that ever existed. Eating disorders in particular are not as much of an issue as suicide prevention, drug addiction, and underage drinking; all of which UH has addressed repeatedly.

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