‘Pro-anorexia syndrome’ threatens teenagers’ health | #socialmedia | #children

“H160 CW50 UGW37” – is it a code? 

No, it is the self-introduction of a teenage girl with a height of 160 centimeters, current weight of 50 kilograms, and ultimate goal in weight of 37 kg.

She is a “pro-ana,” or a member of the “pro-anorexia” group that approves and admires anorexia.

Anorexia nervosa, or anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight, according to Mayoclinic. It is one of the most common mental diseases experienced by celebrities who lost weight in a very short period.

“Pro-anorexia syndrome” is hurting the health of many teenagers in Korea.

Pro-anorexia encourages behaviors related to anorexia, and many online websites have a community where people gather to support or go on an intensive diet. 

To become a very thin person or “bone-thin person” is pro-ana’s goal. For example, one needs to lose weight as much as 120, 125 minus your height. In other words, a person 160 centimeter tall should lower weight to 35 kg to become bone-thin. According to a body mass index (BMI) formula, a 160 centimeter-tall person with less than 47 kilograms is underweight. 

“Once, I went on a ‘water diet,’ drinking only water and ate nothing for seven days to lose weight,” said a woman in her 20s wanting to be known by only her surname of Lee. “I thought it would be better to lose as much weight as possible and maintain it. However, keeping the skinny state was harder than expected, and I had come to develop a weird obsession by alternating between fasting and binge eating.”

The media portray thin women with strong muscles as beautiful, according to  Lee. “I was rather skinny, but I wanted to become skinnier to have that look on TV, adhering to the pro-ana lifestyle,” she said.

Lee added that some women purchase appetite suppressants through SNS or take constipation drugs to lose weight. 

Social media platforms often share postings of very skinny models and K-Pop idols with tips to become “a supper-skinny person” along with their diet plans and “diet-stimulating pictures.” 

More serious, those who share these postings are mostly teenage girls.

According to the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) data of recent five years, teens accounted for the largest share of 14.4 percent of 8,417 anorexic patients during the period. 

“Eating disorders spread fast among teens as they are affected by peers and get easily immersed in SNS information,” said Kim Youl-ri, director of Eating Disorders and Mental Health Center. “Since the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, social anxiety and online content that focus on looks have increased. And the strict social distancing reduced their opportunities to support each other, resulting in eating disorders.”   

When a person searches “#anorexia” in English on Instagram, a warning message appears, saying, “The posting that includes the word you want to search could encourage you to commit acts that harm people and even lead them to death.” However, if one types in “#geoshikjeung” – Korean word for anorexia– the results immediately come out without any warnings. 

A search on “pro-ana” on Twitter leads to too many writings and photos to scroll down to the end.  

“Young students should learn to protect themselves from parents and teachers. Grown-ups should also teach teens to reduce talks on looks and bodies that encourage pro-ana activities,” Kim said. “We need to develop an online algorithm that automatically filters these words on SNS to minimize negative impacts on adolescents.”


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