SCMP Monday, June 26, 2000

Clinic to treat eating illness


The SAR's first eating disorder treatment centre opened at the Prince of Wales Hospital yesterday in response to research that shows one-in-10 young people have a tendency towards anorexia nervosa or bulimia.

The Prince of Wales was treating fewer than five patients in 1983, but now more than 60 come to the hospital's Hong Kong Eating Disorders Association for out-patient services.

The centre is the first such clinic in Asia outside Japan to provide care for people suffering from anorexia, the disorder where patients deliberately starve themselves, and the binge-and-purge syndrome of bulimia. Most patients are between the ages of 15 and 30, and 95 per cent are female.

"The main reason for the increase in the number of patients with eating disorders in Hong Kong is the popularity of [the idea that] slimness equals beauty," said Carmen Liau, a therapist at the centre. "Very often they are schoolgirls with good academic results who always push themselves hard."

Depression caused by work and family pressures are cited by many patients as reasons why they develop an eating disorder. "I started to find myself fearing the sight of food and not wanting to eat anything this past February, and my weight dropped drastically from 98 pounds in February to 77 pounds in March," said Mui Mui, 25, a library clerk.

"I had been suffering from depression and anorexia. I was not happy in my job, and the workload was heavy. I guess that's the main reason for my illness."

Doctors emphasise that there is often nothing physically wrong with eating-disorder patients - the mind is generally behind the self-destructive behaviour.

About 60 per cent of the 140 patients treated since 1983 have considered suicide because of problems with their self-image, according to records kept by the hospital's psychiatric department. Three have died, one from malnutrition and two by suicide.

Officials at the opening blamed the media for promoting the myth that being thin means being sexy or attractive.

"Many popular female stars go on diets. This misleads the youngsters that slimness equals beauty, and therefore they ignore their health," said Joseph Wong Wing-ping, the Secretary for Education and Manpower. "To cure this kind of disorder, education is essential. We have to teach the youngsters to build up a correct sense of image and to understand that health equals beauty."