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Release: Immediate

UI to offer free eating disorders screening Feb. 24

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Do you or your friends exercise compulsively and count calories in an effort to lose weight and be extremely thin? Does your roommate run to the bathroom to throw up after a big meal? Is your girlfriend always dieting and thinking about the food she eats? Once you start eating, do you find that you are unable to stop? These behaviors are all signs that you or your friend may have an eating disorder. Before these illnesses get out of hand, learn how to get help. The University of Iowa will join hundreds of colleges across the country in the second National Eating Disorders Screening Program (NEDSP) during Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Feb. 23-28. The UI will hold the free program Feb. 24 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Student Health Service. All screenings are free and anonymous.

NEDSP is a public outreach effort designed to educate students about the serious consequences of eating disorders and direct those in need toward treatment. The program provides students with the opportunity to hear an educational presentation on eating disorders, complete a screening questionnaire and meet one-on-one with a health care professional. Those who show symptoms of an eating disorder will be encouraged to make an appointment for a full evaluation. "Each year we see students with advanced eating disorders brought into the health center only after they have passed out while trying to jog. Even then, lying in a hospital bed with a weak heartbeat and almost no blood pressure, it often takes days for the students to admit they have been eating practically nothing and exercising compulsively," said Julie Gallagher, UI dietitian for Health Iowa/Student Health Service and Athletic Program.

In order to reach as many students as possible, athletic departments, sororities and other collegiate organizations will be encouraging members to go to the screenings as a team or group activity. Students are also encouraged to bring a friend if they are concerned about his or her eating behavior.

Eating disorders are illnesses that are associated with severe body image distortion and an obsession with weight. Sufferers are terrified of gaining weight and continue to diet, binge, or binge and purge even as their mental and physical health deteriorate. In addition to depression and substance abuse disorders, victims of eating disorders can also develop heart problems, osteoporosis, and reproductive difficulties. Left unchecked, eating disorders can kill.

"Many individuals who are vulnerable to developing an eating disorder may start with a diet simply to improve self esteem, become more 'healthy' or change their weight or body shape," Gallagher said. "As dieting progresses, however, individuals may become increasingly more obsessed with weight loss and less able to eat normally. For those who develop an eating disorder, this can be the beginning of a downward spiral which can have tragic medical and emotional consequences."

People with anorexia nervosa literally starve themselves by dramatically restricting their caloric intake. Symptoms include significant weight loss, loss of menstruation, dry skin, sallow complexion, and an intense fear of gaining weight, even when underweight.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge periods in which the sufferer consumes an unusually large amount of food while feeling out of control of his or her eating. As the binge ends, fear of weight gain causes the person to purge, generally by vomiting, using laxatives or compulsively exercising for hours. Bulimics often develop swelling of the feet, hands and cheeks, and serious dental, throat and intestinal problems.

Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia but without the purging behavior. The binge eater sometimes eats enormous amounts of food very quickly, even when not hungry, until he or she feels uncomfortably full. Binge eaters often feel embarrassed by their inability to stop the binge. NEDSP is sponsored nationally by a large number of eating disorders advocacy groups as well as groups specifically interested in college students. Those include American College Health Association, Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and National Panhellenic Conference. The program is funded nationally by the McKnight Foundation with additional funding from Remuda Ranch, a treatment center in Arizona for girls and women.