When people in a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study were told that anorexia nervosa had a biological or genetics-based cause they were less likely to put any personal accountability on anorexics than when they were told it was personal or cultural.
That makes sense. A disease that is egalitarian and exculpatory like a genetics or biological mutation is different than a syndrome. We can't blame kids with Autism for having Autism, though we do teach them to moderate their behavior - and that's a key point.
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an obsessive desire to be thin and results in self-starvation and related medical complications. According to the authors, more people die from anorexia than from any other mental illness.
“This is a potentially important finding,” said study author Michele A. Crisafulli, “because it suggests that wider dissemination of information about the biological and genetic underpinnings of anorexia nervosa could help decrease the blame-based stigma that is associated with the disorder.”
Indeed, but that's putting the advocacy cart before the science horse, isn't it?
What genetic underpinnings? Is there an anorexia gene? Speculation is that anorexia might be a sex hormone issue but there is also speculation that differences in the insulata of anorexic women mean they just like food less. We commonly accept that obese people like food more and have a lower metabolism to compensate for calorie intake, though studies continue to search for a genetic relationship there as well, and we know that brain patterns in anorexic women are different but unless your 'correlation versus causation' meter is completely disabled that won't mean much.
“There is a lot of false information about anorexia nervosa disseminated in pop culture. This study suggests that even a nugget of accurate biological information can influence how health care professionals perceive the illness,” said Dr. Cynthia M. Bulik, director of UNC’s Eating Disorders Program and the study’s senior author.
But do we want to just influence people or do we want to be accurate in our assessments of diseases and disorders? The UNC study surveyed 115 undergraduate nursing students and asked them whether or not anorexia should be given the same medical coverage by insurance companies as other diseases. The nurses who were given information stating that anorexia had a biological cause responded differently than those who were shown it was sociocultural.
Except none of the material related to a biological cause for anorexia were included in the study so we don't know if the respondents got accurate information. Of the 25 references they included in the paper, only one had any biological information and even that was a recap of other work. The rest were all additional papers talking about the impact of framing in the perception of anorexia.
Anorexia is a devastating thing for victims and their families so my thoughts here have nothing to do with that. We have no idea how much of anorexia could be biological and how much is cultural though we know the cultural tilt is much stronger. Yet what the authors contend ...
“It opens up new horizons for accurate information campaigns to help the public understand that people with anorexia nervosa are not to blame for their illness and that biology plays a role,” Bulik said.
No it doesn't, it opens up a populace already suspicious of science agendas because of conflicting global warming data and political agendas to wondering about the bias of psychologists. More insurance company money is good for them but bad for everyone else.
There are some things that people are responsible for and we can't blame their parents, their schools, their friends, society or everyone except the actual person for everything that occurs in life. The brain is a complicated mechanism and it will take time to understand it.
Like any other area of science, anorexia needs to be studied. It may have a biological cause or it may not. What we can't do as a society is start engineering our culture to force abdication of personal responsibility. Some people will smoke, some people will starve themselves, some people will commit suicide in many ways. It doesn't mean there is a biological cause for smoking or suicide.
A possible genetic or biological cause for a disorder that primarily affects white teenage girls and only in the last 20 years when obesity has gone up considerably means we have to start framing anorexia for society? That doesn't sound like science, it sounds like spin.
Next thing you know, bulimics will contend they aren't anorexic at all and demand their own disorder.