Eating Disorders Surface in Asia

Anorexia and bulimia are becoming more common among affluent young women, say health authorities in Korea and Japan.

Retired epidemiologist Hiroyuki Suematsu says that one in 100 Japanese women have an eating disorder. While Korea and Japan have been hit the hardest by self-starvation, affluent women in the Philippines, India and Pakistan are also becoming victims.

“Appearance and figure has become very important in the minds of young people. Thin is in, fat is out. This is interesting, because Asians are usually thinner and smaller-framed than Caucasians, but their aim now is to become even thinner,” said Dr. Ken Ung of Singapore.

Pills, teas and creams for weight loss have become a huge industry in Asian countries. Advertisements feature skinny models who say things like “My face is too fat!” and popular t-shirts read “I’ve got to get into that dress. It’s easy. Don’t eat.” Fashionable clothes come only in size 4, said Park Sung Hye, a fashion editor at a young women’s style magazine in Korea. “They make just one size so skinny girls will wear it and it will look good. They think, ‘We don’t want fatty girls wearing our clothes because it will look bad and our image will go down.’ If you’re a little bit fatty girl, you cannot buy clothes. All of society pushes women to be thin. America and Korea and Japan all emphasize dieting.”

A study in Korea in 1995 showed that 21% of adult women were underweight. A survey the year before showed that 90% of normal-weight schoolgirls thought they were overweight. Dr. Kim Cho Il in Korea says “The ‘be slim’ trend starts earlier now, even in elementary school. They shun overweight boys and girls — especially girls — as their friends.” She predicts an increase in osteoporosis when this generation of females reach menopause. She added that, besides bone loss, dieting “will also result in weaker physiques and lessened resistance against disease.”


Los Angeles Times - October 18, 1997

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