1 in 5 children suffer from eating disorders, new study finds

Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series covering eating disorders and diet culture.


According to a new study, more than one in five children and adolescents worldwide show signs of eating disorders.

The study highlights a serious public health concern that is often overlooked and underestimated, according to the meta-analysis published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Researchers reviewed and analyzed 32 studies from 16 countries and found that 22% of children and adolescents exhibit disordered eating behaviors. According to the study, these numbers were higher in girls, older teens and those with a higher body mass index or BMI.

Eating disorders are similar in behavior to an eating disorder – they can include strict dietary rules about how much a person eats, what they eat, and how much they exercise over its food, said therapist Jennifer Rollin, founder of The Eating Disorder. Center in Rockville, Maryland.

For someone to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, there are similar symptoms along with a higher level of stiffness, distress and impaired vital functions, she added. Disordered eating behaviors can progress to someone diagnosed with an eating disorder.

“However, it is important to note that eating disorders and eating disorders are serious and deserve treatment and professional help,” Rollin said via email.

According to the study, disordered eating behaviors may be undertreated because children may hide their symptoms or avoid seeking help due to stigma.

Likewise, the study may have been limited in its ability to describe the full scope because it relied on data in which children and adolescents self-reported their behavior, the author said. study, Dr. José Francisco López-Gil, a postdoctoral researcher at the Health and Social Research Center at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain.

“The prevalence of eating disorders could be even higher if children were asked about symptoms of binge eating or muscle building and included studies during the pandemic,” said Dr. Jason Nagata, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. Nagata did not participate in the research.

Researchers then need to look at the cause of the disordered eating behaviors, López-Gil said. But in the meantime, experts hope that institutions and families will focus on identifying and helping children who show signs of eating disorders.

These types of behaviors are dangerous and can lead to serious medical complications for organs, including the heart, brain, liver and kidneys, Nagata said.

“Eating disorders are a significant problem in children and adolescents, and early detection and intervention are crucial to prevent long-term health consequences,” López-Gil said in an email. .

“The findings can help healthcare professionals, educators and parents understand the extent of the problem and develop prevention and intervention strategies.”

Adults should be aware of signs of eating disorders in themselves and their children, López-Gil said.

These behaviors could include an obsession with weight or body shape, distorted self-image, rigid dietary rules, binge eating and purging behaviors, he added.

Exercising in a way that deteriorates a person’s quality of life can also be a warning sign, Nagata said by email.

“Other red flags include if an individual engages in fasting, severe calorie restriction, vomiting, or the use of laxatives or diet pills to lose weight,” he said.

Disordered eating can also feel like a narrowing of the food groups a person is willing to eat, feeling anxious or ashamed if eating rules are not followed, with the number on the scale having an impact on his mood or eating behaviors, limiting social events or bringing in foods that follow his diet. rules at events to control their feeding, Rollin added.

These types of behaviors can motivate someone to withdraw from their usual activities, which is another warning sign to look out for, Nagata said.

While the numbers were higher among teenage girls and people with higher BMIs, eating disorders affect all people of all genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and sizes, Nagata pointed out.

And eating disorders may be particularly underdiagnosed in boys, LGBTQ people, people of color and people with larger bodies, he added.

“You can’t tell someone has an eating disorder based on their looks alone,” Nagata said.

If you see signs of an eating disorder in your child, seek help from a medical professional or mental health specialist, López-Gil said.

Early intervention is important so that eating disorders don’t develop into a fully diagnosed eating disorder, Rollin said.

Families can offer support to their child by starting from a positive, non-judgmental place, López-Gil added.

And teens who are worried about their own behavior can talk to a health care provider, school counselor, family member or teacher, Nagata said.

The best way to support an eating disorder or eating disorder will often involve many people, such as mental health, medical and nutrition providers, he said.

A medical provider can often provide the referrals to get other professionals involved, Nagata added.

“Parents can also call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline (800-931-2237) for advice,” he said.

“Eating disorders and eating disorders can both affect someone’s quality of life because they both fill your brain with thoughts about food and your body,” Rollin said, adding that the behaviors often get in the way of other things you value in your life. “Freedom is possible, and you deserve to live a full life – not a life consumed by food, exercise and weight.”

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