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Campus members experience a variety of relationships (some healthy, some not) with food and with alcohol or other drugs. There also seems to be a synergism in the relationship where food and substances intersect, which can contribute to increased risk of health harms. The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, Jessie’s Legacy Eating Disorders Prevention Program, and the Canadian Mental Health Association – BC Division[i] invite BC post-secondary institutions to help us think through the issues related to the intersection of substance use and eating difficulties in campus settings.
[i] We are members of BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information, a group of seven mental health and substance use non-profit agencies. The BC Partners are funded by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority.
Eating and substance use are associated with significant health issues on college campuses. Like sex and other feel good things in life, food and psychoactive substances change the way people feel. And, just as food and substances have benefits, they can also lead to trouble, including problems with health. Campus members experience a continuum of healthy to unhealthy relationships with food and substances. There also seems to be a synergism in the relationship where food and substances intersect which can contribute to increased risk of health-related harms.
When we think about people and their relationships with food and substances, it is important to keep in mind all the factors that can contribute to a person’s choices. A multi-lens perspective helps draw attention to the range of influences ̶ from personal characteristics to broad social factors ̶ that shape behaviours. This orientation can be applied in a variety of settings, including campuses, to help guide responses.
Difficulties around eating and substance use are not yet fully understood. It seems likely that a range of behaviours and contributing factors, including biological, psychological, social and environmental are involved. The co-occurrence of “binge eating” and “binge drinking” is associated with increased risk and harm. In fact many of the behaviours traditionally associated with unhealthy patterns of alcohol consumption (especially problems at work or school and regretted sexual activity) are increased when “binge eating” and “binge drinking” occur together. And, the negative effects appear to be greater than the sum of what is associated with each independently.
While specific eating disorders are largely confined to women, the rates of binge eating are (at least according to one study) comparable for male and female students. And while male students may be more likely to binge drink, female students may be more likely to adopt unhealthy strategies for weight loss.
Some promising practices are emerging to guide a campus response. In regard to concerns around substance use, research has emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach that will both address environmental factors and relate to individual needs. A socio-ecological model of health promotion provides a helpful framework for selecting and directing strategies that can together comprise a consistent, coherent response to prevent, treat and reduce the harm from difficulties around eating and substance use among college students. Within a health promotion strategy, it is important to help everyone avoid problems as well as help those who are already experiencing problems to overcome them.
We are inviting campuses to help us examine the following issues and questions with regard to food and substance use:
If you are interested in participating in this project or would like to receive more information about it, please contact Tim Dyck at [email protected]
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