A new study came out this week reporting that the diet drug ephedra is hundreds of times more dangerous than other herbal remedies.

Risks associated with taking ephedra, which is the base for some of the most popular weight loss pills, include anxiety, insomnia, raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, stroke, heart attack and even death. Taking into account that pills containing ephedra account for 1 percent of all herbal remedies sales, the miracle weight-loss herb is 200 times more dangerous than all other herbs put together.

What drives so many to continue using a product that gives them such an increased chance of sickness and even death?

Unfortunately, living on a college campus I know all too well the answer to that question. There is a cultural obsession with being thin. This obsession hits college women disproportionately to almost any other demographic group. Let me clarify that I am not talking about a desire to be healthy or in shape — both of these are perfectly wonderful goals, when done in moderation. I am talking about the things women do to themselves to try to obtain an ideal.

Every day I see people popping pills with their diet cola and side salads at dinner. I hear the comments made in the gym between groups of girls about how they are fat and have to continue exercising to the point of exhaustion. I’ve watched as people I care about stop eating or disappear suspiciously after every meal. I’ve also seen it progress to the point where people end up at the emergency room.

Statistically, what I have witnessed is not surprising. While studies differ, generally they report that 20 to 25 percent of college women suffer from an eating disorder. Nearly half of these women — 10 percent of all college women — suffer to a level deemed clinical. This means that one out of every 10 college women will need medical attention because of an eating disorder.

Eating disorders do not only do damage to a person’s physical state, but leave emotional and psychological scars that can last a lifetime. Self-esteem and confidence are shattered and often feelings of self-doubt or self-hatred are left. Honestly, I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how to start making health more important than appearance.

I do know that something needs to be done. There are people who you probably know who suffer from these ailments, regardless of how intelligent they are or how many clubs and organizations they are involved in. Just remember to have some compassion and show that you care — it can never hurt and might help at least one woman from being another statistic.

Miller can be reached at amiller@campustimes.org.

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