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Review of "If Your Adolescent Has an Eating Disorder"

By B. Timothy Walsh and V. L. Cameron
Oxford University Press, 2005
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Jun 5th 2007
If Your Adolescent Has an Eating Disorder

If Your Adolescent Has an Eating Disorder is a distinguished member of the family of The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands' Adolescent Mental Health Initiative series of books, designed principally for parents of adolescents afflicted with a mental health disorder.  This particular book in the series is crafted with great skill by Dr. B. Timothy Walsh, the Ruane Professor of Pediatric Psychopharmacology at the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University, and by V.L. Cameron, a New York City based freelance writer.  Exhibiting great deliberateness of purpose, Walsh and Cameron  focus sharply on providing parents of adolescents with, or at risk of,  eating disorders with a plethora of finely detailed and very practical  focused advice congruent closely with the best available medical scientific information concerning adolescent eating disorders.  Towards that end, the duo of authors artfully interweave strands composed of anecdotal matter with threads imbued with discerning scientific analysis, with the resultant creation of a tapestry revealing  some of the science of adolescent eating disorders in an animating way wedded to real life details.  For parents of adolescents with eating disorders, this book is, indeed, an essential resource.

As explained succinctly in Chapter One, the building materials used to construct the textual edifice importantly include scientific laden bricks, derived in substantial part from the findings of a commission joined to the Adolescent Mental Health Initiative.  The textual substance is constructed additionally with bricks laced with anecdotal information collected from parents of children with eating disorders, and with other bricks comprised of the anecdotal recollections of two persons who had eating disorders as teens.  Input from these persons, notably including an enlivening multitude of snippets of anecdotal recollections grafted into the textual body, forms a fount of refreshingly edifying personal insights and wisdom emanating from real life experiences.

An array of eating disorder connected topics are broached informatively in Chapter Two.  Tentacles of critically discerning attention reach to multifarious subjects, encompassing:  anorexia nervosa; bulimia nervosa; binge eating disorder; eating disorders in males; possible risk factors associated with eating disorders; comorbidities that may be entwined with eating disorders; and the sobering issue of possible medical complications  of eating disorders.  A thematic emphasis pervading Chapter Two, and the other chapters as well, is the trenchantly imparted view, of Walsh and Cameron, that parents of adolescents with eating disorders have a vital, and quite challenging, role to play.  Flowing copiously from this core belief is a cascade of detailed, practical advice directed at parents.

The crux of Chapter Three is the assisting of parents with regard to getting the right treatment for children with eating disorders.  In this enframing context,  Walsh and Cameron brightly illumine a thicket of thorny topics, enveloping:  the devising of an effectual treatment plan addressing comprehensively the complexities of a child's eating disorder; perspicacious discourse  regarding variant forms of psychotherapy, as possible components of treatment for eating disorders; deft examination of contentious issues tied to medication, as part of the panoply of treatments for eating disorders; and, not least, some sage thoughts pertinent to advancing along an insurance path laden with obstacles to coverage for treatment of eating disorders.

Chapter Four proffers a rich profusion of practical counsel potentially very helpful to parents endeavoring gamely to traverse the sorely nettlesome terrain of everyday life with a teen suffering from an eating disorder.  Walsh and Cameron shed light luminously on the honing of skills relevant to communicating efficaciously with adolescents, with regard particularly to eating disorders.  A salutary dose of "tips", germane to assisting adolescents with eating disorders concerning the managing of daily life, is injected, as well, into the chapter's corpus.

Informed, thoughtful discourse focusing on the prevention of adolescent eating disorders comprises the core substance of Chapter Five.  Walsh and Cameron expound on a gamut of subjects, including:  "universal" and "targeted" prevention programs in schools; and the scientifically fractious relationship between treating obesity, and the risk of developing an eating disorder.  As is their wont, Walsh and Cameron suffuse the chapter's pages with wise, practical counsel targeted at parents.

Sundry federal and state legislative initiatives relevant to eating disorders are the cynosure of concluding Chapter Six.  In this last chapter, Walsh and Cameron also sound a clarion call for more research pertinent to eating disorders, and further sound a plea for an end to perceived social stigma enshrouding eating disorders.

The text's instructiveness is embellished by a "Glossary" tersely defining selected technical terms associated with eating disorders.  There is also a "Resources" structural appendage, comprised of citations to books and listings of a considerable number of eating disorder related web sites.  Finally, a "Bibliography" appended to the text provides an alphabetized listing of a modest number of references, tethered subjectwise to eating disorders.

Critics may carp that the text's level of scientific complexity is insufficiently discerning of technical details for professionally trained readers, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, potentially problematic for parents, untrained in scientific matters, with respect to accurately nuanced understanding of the scientific information presented.  Moreover, for the reader searching for textual material moored solidly to academic style rigor, the considerable insinuation of anecdotal matter into the textual body may be disquieting.  The prospective reader should be mindful also that many of the pieces of the enigmatic puzzle of the causes, treatments, and prevention of adolescent eating disorders are presently missing.  And that the need for further investigative efforts, in the still fallow research field of adolescent eating disorders, is compelling.

But it cannot sensibly be gainsaid that the text has been hewed adeptly in a fashion that makes the book an excellently informative vade mecum for parents covetous of garnering practical knowledge and understanding of adolescent eating disorders.  The excellence of this book should further be of immense appeal to those with a professional interest in adolescent eating disorders, including:  psychologists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, internists, pediatricians, family medicine doctors, and social workers.


© 2007 Leo Uzych

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.

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