It's the most lethal psychiatric illness in the U.S., studies show, and yet one of the least reported.

What is this growing phenomenom? Eating disorders.

Even on college campuses, where anorexia is especially prevalent, the illness goes almost untreated. But the effects and prevalanece are quite the opposite.

According to Mirasol Treatment Center studies, without treatment, up to 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders will die from complications. With treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2 or 3 percent.

"Before I opened this treatment center, I worked on a college campus, working with students with eating disorders and, from my perspective, it is the most significant health risk facing college students today," Chase Bannister, vice president of Veritas Collaborative, a Durham, N.C., treatment and rehabilitation center, said. "These eating disorders are the most lethal of all psychiatric illnesses and take the life of far too many young people across the country and around the world.

"... The entire society, all of us, is impoverished when we lose a young person to any illness; particularly to an illness that we have evidence based treatment to intervene."

Although most colleges, like UT, provide student health centers equipped with professional counselors, most student to counselor ratios are unbalanced.

Bannister noted recently that George Washington University reported an average student to counselor ratio of roughly 1900:1, which is not unusual for most large universities.

He added that universities rarely employ counselors with specialized eating disorder certification.

"In order to treat this illness, it takes a multidisciplinary team of psychotherapists, physiatrists, medical practitioners or nurse practitioners or primary care provider and a nutritionist," Bannister said. "That is a minimum team of folks that need to be gathered."

At UT, counselors work with students individually, then refer them to treatment centers off campus that can provide necessary steps to recovery. Although treatment may not be provided on campus, universities tend to ensure a student receives care elsewhere.

Kathleen Yabroudy, executive director at Eating Disorders Coalition Tennessee, warns against the dangers of simply ignoring a growing diet obsession.

"It's a very slippery slope, and it can happen pretty quickly," Yabroudy said. "When it becomes a preoccupation and you're not able to concentrate on normal daily activities, like class or social activities. All you think about is food.

"... It is very scary how many people start out just wanting to lose a couple pounds and be healthy and suddenly it's an all-consuming obsession ... The worst thing you can do is not do anything. The longer you go down that path, the harder it will be to treat it."

In Bannister's opinion, a university is more than just a playground for insecurity. Eating disorders are often mistaken for willful diet techniques rather than an actual psychiatric illness.

"I cannot think of a more toxic environment than a college campus for an eating disorder to thrive," Bannister said. "They have become incubators for judgment, for shame, for body image distortion, for dieting behaviors. It's become okay to comment on body, weight, shape, size and appearance regularly."

However, studies show that, in most cases, eating disorders are genetically inherited as opposed to spontaneously triggered.

"The truth is that it's far more heritable than alcoholism, just as heritable as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, but somehow we still look at these men and women with these illnesses and say, 'Why don't they just stop?'" Bannister said. "(Eating disorders) are not disorders of will and they are not disorders of choice."

Bannister hopes that, one day, another message will replace physical ideals.

"People are wonderful just the way they are," Bannister said.

For more information about UT's Student Health Center, click here. For statistics and general information on eating disorders, click here.