Ten Percent of Adolescent Girls Admit to Either Binge Eating or Purging

According to the June 9, 2008 issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, one in ten teenage girls either binge eats or purges at least once a week. The incidence of purging was highest among younger adolescent girls. Binge eating among boys was 3%, and boys were less likely to engage in purging. Alison E. Field, ScD, associate professor of pediatrics, in the division of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital, Boston, in Massachusetts said, “I would believe that 10% [of girls] would at least experiment with these behaviors, but once a week is quite severe.” The authors also found that girls who diet frequently and are concerned about their weight are at greater risk for developing eating disorders. Girls, younger than 14, were three times as likely to binge or purge if their mother had a history of an eating disorder.

Data was analyzed from questionnaires submitted by 6916 girls and 5618 boys who were part of the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS), children of women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II and aged 9 to15 years at the start of the study. Information was updated every 12 to 18 months from September 1, 1996 to November 11, 2003, and in 2004, a questionnaire was sent to their mother. Among the children in the study, 19.8% of girls and 23.2% of boys were considered overweight or obese.

What’s Happening?

Teasing from boys and comments from dad seem to increase the risk that your teen will develop disordered eating. Dr. Field suggests, “this is an important area to focus on, because you might be able to prevent some children from becoming disordered eaters.” Watch what you say to your kids about their weight, and recognize that boys can also be affected. Suggestions include emphasizing that children practice healthy behaviors, shifting discussions away from weight loss.
Dr. Field also points to the effect of media, saying it’s important to teach children that people in movies, magazines and TV, have figures that are “completely unattainable”. Billboard ads and magazines that emphasize men with six-pack abs produce unreasonable self-expectations for boys.

No one knows yet whether adolescent eating disorders pose long- term problems, or whether it’s experimental. “We’re trying to understand now who are the young people who just experiment with the behavior — say, do it for 1 year and then stop — vs. those who go on to have a very persistent problem.”

It’s important to discuss healthy eating habits and promote exercise and beneficial recreational activities with your children. Body image is important, especially during adolescence. Negative remarks about weight can leave scars. Engage in open discussions with your children – note their reactions to what they see and read. Speak with your doctor if you expect that your child is engaging in binge eating or purging. The study is an important reminder to parents.

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Posted by Kathleen, RN

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