October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But I’m sure you already knew that. Perhaps no one told you; rather, you’ve noticed pink everywhere. When October hits, suddenly we see pink everywhere we turn – from NFL players’ pink socks to pink plastic bags at the grocery store to pink-tinted water flowing through fountains throughout the community.
Efforts to raise awareness about breast cancer date back to the early 1900’s, but the disease did not receive widespread attention until the mid-70’s when President Gerald Ford’s wife, Betty Ford, came forward about her diagnosis and subsequent mastectomy. In the 1980’s, there were a number of grassroots initiatives advocating for early screening. The 1990’s marked the birth of a true, national movement to raise awareness of breast cancer and to influence public policy related to the disease – a push for the implementation of preventative screening measures nationwide and demand for increased funding for breast cancer research. Since that time, outreach efforts surrounding National Breast Cancer Awareness Month have climbed, which has played a significant role in early detection and diagnosis of the disease as well as available funds for research and community support for those affected by the disease. (1) Routine screening is now commonplace, and with the support of research dollars, treatments that yield better prognoses are being developed all the time.
The degree of governmental and community-based support surrounding this disease is incredible, and for good reason.
In 2012, there were an estimated 2,975,314 women living with breast cancer in the United States. (2)
About 1 in 8 women (about 12.3%) will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. (2)
Those statistics are staggering.
But did you know that up to 30,000,000 individuals across all ages and genders are currently suffering from an eating disorder in the United States? (3)
Did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness? (3)
Look at those bold numbers again. Do these numbers surprise you? The number of women affected by breast cancer is grossly overshadowed by the number of individuals affected by eating disorders in our country. Yet only 1 in 10 individuals suffering from an eating disorder seek treatment, (3) research funding for eating disorders falls far below research dollars dedicated to breast cancer – a disappointing $0.93 per affected individual versus $2,596.00 per individual diagnosed with breast cancer (4,5) – and the outreach and prevention efforts surrounding eating disorders are miniscule compared to those linked to breast cancer. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week occurs at the end of February and it is just that – a week.
As a strong advocate for eating disorder outreach and prevention, on one hand, I find myself feeling envious of the governmental backing and widespread community engagement that the breast cancer awareness movement has amassed in only a few short decades and the unmistakable, national support and solidarity that we see every October during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. On the other hand, however, I’m thankful for our government and health care system’s focus on women’s health initiatives and for the advancement of breast cancer treatments and improvements in this disease’s prognosis. I’m relieved that amidst heated presidential debates and surges of violence across the nation, we can all still come together and unite in support of an important cause. I’m awestruck by the incredible strides of what started as a grassroots effort to increase awareness of a disease that had not received much attention. I’m inspired by how a small movement exploded into one of the most recognized, longest running outreach campaigns to date. And I’m determined to be a part of seeing that such widespread awareness of and advocacy surrounding the prevention and treatment of eating disorders happens in my lifetime.
By Jessica Betts, REbeL Program Director
1 Jacobsen, G. D. and Jacobsen, K. H. “Health Awareness Campaigns and Diagnosis Rates: Evidence from National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” Journal of Health Economics 30 (2011): 55-61.
2 SEER Stat Facts Sheets: Breast Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Surveillance Research Program, 2012. Web. 30 September 2015.
3 Eating Disorder Statistics. ANAD. 2015. Web. 30 September 2015.
4 Get the Facts on Eating Disorders. NEDA. Web. 30 September 2015.
5 Parker, T. P. Cancer Funding: Does it Add Up? The New York Times. 6 March 2008. Web. 30 September 2015.