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UNF fights eating disorders with awareness week

At first glance, Mary seems perfectly normal.

She passes her classes, has an active social life and participates in extra-curricular activities.

But Mary has a secret.

She spends the majority of her time in the bathroom, weighs herself daily and struggles with ongoing anxiety attacks.

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While Mary is a fictional character, the symptoms she’s facing are anything but unusual for college students diagnosed with eating disorders.

National Eating Disorders Awareness week was Feb. 22-28, and UNF has been using the date as an opportunity to help students for about 15 years.

The goal of the event is to shed light on the seriousness of such disorders, body image and the growing concern of America’s obesity epidemic.

The UNF Body Image Task Force, comprised of faculty and students, meets several times a year with awareness week being their “big thing,” said Shelly Purser, director of Health Promotion.

The UNF Counseling Center and Student Health Services also play a role in the awareness and treatment.

Eating disorders are real illnesses with complex underlying causes, and numerous studies agree that
about 8 million people in the U.S. suffer from one.

Eating disorders also having the highest mortality rate of any psychological disease, according to the studies.

And although it’s a growing national problem, Purser said it’s also a trend at UNF – no different than at other college campus.

“[We’re doing] this to address a very serious issue that stems around body issues,” she said. “We do something not just now, but throughout the year. We want to help people get into healthy habits [as part] of Healthy People 2010.”

Healthy People 2010 is a set of health objectives for the nation, following the notion of plans established in the past.

Many federal agencies, state health departments and businesses are taking part in the campaign’s two goals: to eliminate health disparities and increase the quality and years of healthy life.

Several events were scheduled throughout the week at UNF including “Mirrorless Monday,” when body image facts and positive affirmations were posted in campus bathrooms. The “Change Your Clothes, Not Your Body” clothing drive is scheduled to continue through March 13 at different drop-off bins located around campus. Faculty, student volunteers and nursing students all contributed to making the week possible.

Coordinator for Health Promotion Kendall McCray said it’s very taboo to hear about females with eating disorders, but even more so with males now due to athletics and other standards portrayed in the media.

“We want to dispel things to improve health,” said McCray, who is a UNF graduate. “It’s hard to get people to open up because [disorders] are linked to not just self-image but how we’re perceived by others.”

Many students keep their disorder private as it’s a very habitual, personal problem for those dealing with it. But UNF and the Jacksonville community offer resources for those who want help.

The UNF Counseling Center offers 12 free, voluntary appointments to every student per semester as part of student fees and recently hired a nutritionist, Marilyn Dahl, who Purser said is helping a lot.

Students may also consult a staff member at Student Health Services regarding weight issues.

If adequate help cannot be provided on campus, Purser said there are outside communities that assist UNF like the Wekiva Springs treatment facility.

Other local centers such as the Coastal Obesity Center and the Baptist Center for Bariatrics are targeting America’s weight, as two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese.

UNF is addressing this issue with its Ospreys on the Move walking program, which began this February. Participants can check in each week with the program for a fitness assessment.

“[The walking program] is something to enjoy yourself, reduce stress, plan goals and get ready for Spring Break,” McCray said.

Beginning March 9, the UNF track will be open to the community from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

McCray also said the issue is being addressed to each incoming freshman class with a small pilot program to avoid the “freshman 15.”

“One of our concerns is really just physical activity,” Purser said. “Diet is a four letter word with ‘die’ in it,”

E-mail Sarah Gojekian at [email protected].

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