Toll of teen eating disorders described
March 7th, 2011
05:14 PM ET

Toll of teen eating disorders described

Eating disorders are more prevalent in teens than previously thought, and the effect on their lives can be devastating, according to a study published Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study examined the prevalence of eating disorders and similar behaviors in 10,123 teens between age 13 and 18 from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement. About 0.3% had anorexia, 0.9% developed bulimia and 1.6% experienced binge eating disorder in their lives.

Many teens had behaviors that mimic eating disorders.  This means they may have serious eating behaviors, but their symptoms do not meet all the criteria to fit the diagnosis for anorexia or bulimia as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a manual for mental health disorders.

This study found 0.8% of the participants had symptoms that came close to anorexia and 2.5% had symptoms resembling binge eating disorder.

Binge eating recommended as a psychiatric diagnosis

Researchers also noted that the age when patients began having eating disorders were “markedly younger” than in previous estimates.  The median age for the onset of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and other eating disorders was 12.

Inside a young boy’s anorexia

Nearly all the teens with anorexia reported social impairment, affecting their social and family relationships.  They also reported having had a day when they were unable to carry out normal activities.  Teenagers who have had eating disorders were also more likely to idealize suicides.

These behaviors can leave long-lasting effects. Many of the young patients aren’t getting the treatment they need to break the destructive cycle.

“While most adolescents with eating disorders received some form of treatment, only a minority of affected individuals received services specifically for eating or weight problems,” wrote the authors.

The stress of eating disorders has "been repeatedly demonstrated through elevated rates of role impairment, medical complications, comorbidity, mortality, and suicide."

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