In 1996 Dr. Ira Sacker, a physician who specializes in treating eating disorders, reported that in the ultra-Orthodox communities of Brooklyn as many as one in 19 girls was diagnosed with an eating disorder. At first blush this may not seem high, but in fact it is about 50 percent higher than the rate found in the general population. Just a few weeks ago Dr. Yael Leiter, of the University of Haifa, said that Israel has one of the highest rates of eating disorders in the world. This rate is in no small measure due to the seriously elevated numbers of women in the Orthodox world who suffer with this problem.
In 1998 an epidemiological survey done by the State of Israel reported that substance abuse was just as prevalent among unaffiliated teens as Orthodox and Charedi ones. In 2002 a Doctoral dissertation that I was involved with found that teenage males in a yeshiva in the New York area had high rates of stress and used illegal substances to alleviate the pressures they felt. The rates of abuse were apparently not much different than those in the general population.
Studies of Orthodox Jewish teens’ physical abilities have shown that because of the limited time they have for recreational activities and the general frowning upon of organized sports after the age of bar mitzvah, most teens have bone calcium levels well below the acceptable amount and higher stress levels than their non-religious counterparts. A study recently performed at Bar-Ilan University found that religious teenagers are more likely than their peers to suffer from significant anxiety and self-loathing when they confront their developing sexuality. While the researchers struck a balance between the appropriate understanding of adolescent development and the needs of teens to learn to control their urges, they were just as clear in stating that the “scare tactics used in the religious public” only exacerbates the fears from which these teens suffer.