A Race Against Eating Disorders

By Sofia Gregera Knoop

Screen Shot 2019-05-10 at 3.41.36 PM“It’s her fault.”

“Just make her eat.”

“She’s doing this to herself.”

Have you ever stood over those plain, hope leeching hospital beds, clutching the hand of a loved one praying to whoever or whatever is listening because you just don’t know what to do anymore? I have.

Rafaela Zanatti. A middle-school student just like any other. She was and is one of the strongest, smartest athletes I have ever known; meeting her felt like an honor – that is until the year 2014.

This young teenager was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa – a disease where your very mind turns against you and deceive your feeble eyes into seeing your own reflection as overweight, regardless of how thin you are. This is only one of the thousands of examples of innocent victims whose lives and futures have been chained down by eating disorders (EDs). It is estimated that EDs are a daily fight for 10 million females and 1 million males in the USA alone. It is about time we do something about it.

EDs are hard to diagnose and even harder to treat because of the various factors that come into play – personality, history, mental and emotional states, type of ED, and the severity of the disease. As countless studies have shown, it is easier to treat EDs if they are identified earlier on. How can we accomplish this?


Screening processes are a low-cost step towards improving the lives and wellbeing of young victims and improve how other people stigmatize these children. As shown by a recent study made by Boston Children’s Hospital, these screening processes would be about 35 cents a piece. They are so low-cost because they are nothing more than a verbal, soft, or hard copy questionnaire which aims to surface any possible ED-related behaviors, mentalities or thoughts.

“80% of states currently require vision and hearing screening, and 30% of states require BMI testing for students. Many states have a mandatory screening in schools for scoliosis, asthma, and other conditions. No states currently screen for eating disorders, despite the fact that they are the third most common chronic illness among adolescents, with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness,”.

There is no reason for schools to not have screening processes for EDs. It is cost-effective and it would save the lives of countless. A school’s purpose is to aid children’s futures; what if they don’t have one?

The implementation of a screening process for EDs in schools will increase the number of victims being diagnosed which is currently 3% to 28% – as stated by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information – and helped before the damage becomes irreversible or lethal. They are as simple as a form or survey which seeks to spotlight a change or difference in dietary, emotional, or physical pattern.

A simple yet unbearably overlooked fact:

Eating Disorders are a disease, not a choice.

Along with screening processes, teachers should have an informative session with the students to explain what an eating disorder is, what it looks like, and how to act to help. Awareness leads to the ability of identification amongst students and an increased understanding of how to help. It may bring a concern to picture children and, more specifically, adolescence helping others deal with such harmful diseases; however, it is better for them to be informed than unprepared especially since the number of students with EDs has increased in the last couple years. It would also mean that the teachers and counselors would be more capable of providing support and guidance to the victims.

Regardless of if you are a parent, student or teacher, this affects you. EDs can attack anyone; no matter how strong, smart and self-respecting they are. I witnessed this first-hand.

EDs, if found too late, are costly, painful, and even lethal emotional roller coasters that will drain the life of the victim along with those around her, sorry, them.

Rafi is a fighter but not everyone has that kind of emotional and physical strength along with medical care. The cost of treating her once she was officially diagnosed – which wasn’t until 2 months after the family had started seeing symptoms and who knows how long after she started feeling different – were countless changes in doctors and hospitals, a stressful move to Singapore, and 7 months of hospitalization at $30,000 a month on average for the residential programs.

Eventually, she did get better – despite the hopeless diagnostics from the doctors.

We need to stand up for the health of the youth.

They – we – are the future.


Work Cited

  1. Breanna. “Screening.” Screening | Eating Disorders Victoria, 23 Aug. 2016, 12:07, www.eatingdisorders.org.au/screening.
  2. “Eating Disorders.” Pine Lake Behavioral Health, 2019, www.pinelakebh.com/services/eating-disorders/.
  3. Gregorio, Lara. “Eating Disorder School Screening Legislation: Early Intervention Is the Best Prevention.” National Eating Disorders Association, 21 Feb. 2018, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/eating-disorder-school-screening-legislation-early-intervention-best-prevention.
  4. Liebenson, Bess. “EATING DISORDERS GO BEYOND FOOD.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 May 1987, www.nytimes.com/1987/05/10/nyregion/eating-disorders-go-beyond-food.html.
  5. Parker-Pope, Tara. “An Older Generation Falls Prey to Eating Disorders.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Mar. 2011, https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/an-older-generation-falls-prey-to-eating-disorders/.
  6. Parker-Pope, Tara. “The Cost of an Eating Disorder.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Dec. 2010, https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/the-cost-of-an-eating-disorder/.
  7. Westin, Kitty, and TEDx Talks. “Breaking the Stigma and Shame of Mental Illness | TEDxFargo.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsRF8xGgbPA.
  8. Wright, Davene R, et al. “The Cost-Effectiveness of School-Based Eating Disorder Screening.” American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, Sept. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4151929/.