Eating Disorders in Very Early Adolescence: The Negative Consequences

In the first report of its kind outside the US, researchers in the UK have found that the patterns of eating-disorder behaviors found in young teens – not including diagnosable eating disorders – have negative consequences for social, psychological and physical health. So, even the precursor stage of an eating disorder has long term negative effects.

Food Restriction Not an Uncommon Practice

Six in ten girls and four in ten boys at age 13 are afraid of gaining weight. Using data culled from over 7000 participants aged 13 and 15 in the Children of the 90s study, researchers found that girls were more than twice as likely as boys to be ‘extremely worried’ about getting fat. One in three girls compared to one in five boys was upset about their body shape. Half the girls and 41% of boys avoided fatty foods. A fourth of the girls and 15% of boys restricted their food intake by fasting or skipping meals. About the same number exercised with the purpose of losing weight.

Laxatives and Self-Induced Vomiting Rare

Using laxatives and vomiting for weight loss was rare for girls (.23%) and goys (.16%). It appears that the girls and boys who worried about their weight and engaged in unhealthy strategies to control it had a 40% increased odds of being overweight and a 90% higher odds of being obese by age 15. Bingeing affected boys and girls equally at about 5% and those who did binge had a 50% increased risk of being overweight and twice as likely to be obese.

Weight Concern More Common Than Previously Thought

“We have found that behaviors typical of an eating disorder are more common in early adolescence than previously thought, and not just in girls but also in boys and that they are associated with a range of social and psychological problems in the child. Most importantly, we found a connection with certain behaviors and higher weight two years later, which has important public health implications for the prevention of obesity. We are far from being able to identify boys and girls who have unhealthy weight control behaviors and binge-eating early, but this is crucial to prevent full-blown eating disorders and other negative social and emotional problems,” noted author Dr. Nadia Micali, a National Institute for Health Research clinician-scientist.

Sources: MedicalNewsToday, NIHR
Photo: Pexels

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