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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."


soundoff (394 Responses)
  1. psychology student

    My Friend just died after a long battle with Anorexia. It's a horrible illness. She was very smart and much a feminist and never read fashion magazines or anything. She was very interested in nutrition and wanted to be a nutritionist, but now she's gone.

    March 7, 2011 at 19:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jenn

      I'm so sorry for your loss.

      March 7, 2011 at 19:42 | Report abuse |
    • LEB

      Eating disorders are as much about a desperate attempt at control over one's life as they are about appearance. Been there, done that, but thankfully survived.

      March 7, 2011 at 20:28 | Report abuse |
    • Jabberwocky

      I am so sorry. Anorexia is very difficult to treat. My sibling suffered from it for years and still struggles to this day with the effects.

      March 7, 2011 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
    • 25 cm pole

      An anorexic was gonna give people nutrition advice?

      March 8, 2011 at 09:30 | Report abuse |
    • pouringreign

      25 cm pole: Although anorexics clearly don't have normal eating patterns they do spend the majority of their lives thinking about food, making decisions based on food and stressing about food. So, although they don't always follow their own advice, they are truly "passionate" about food and spend a lot more time studying it than the average person. Doesn't seem that far-fetched to me.

      March 8, 2011 at 14:53 | Report abuse |
    • George Insurance

      So sad to hear – truly sorry.

      March 8, 2011 at 16:36 | Report abuse |
    • inez

      nutritionist is just another manifestation of an eating disorder. having food be your job your life literally is about food! a lot of anorexics look at food labels and live by them this healthy eating thing is mass hysteria.

      March 8, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
  2. Anonymous

    Ive known a couple of girls in high school who have/had eating disorders. One girl was anorexic and very unhealthy. She had a moment when she realized she needed to begin the journey to recovery and has since been doing well. She looks great now, so much better. Its inspiring because Ive been bulimic for 5 years now, since high school. It gives hope to see a friend recover from something like that when you're secretly struggling with it too.

    March 7, 2011 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RosaFranklin

      Best of luck to you. I sincerely hope you get better and find it within yourself to seek help. Mental health professionals can be wonderful – I had to go to a mental health clinic for a while and my first visit there I couldn't stop crying, but truthfully, it was actually a very low-key sort of place and very friendly. I know how hard it can be to struggle against something in silence, by yourself, because you can't bring yourself to tell anyone about it....but I also know how much better it feels to tell people because then they can be supportive of you, and that feels really good. Even if only your counselor knows about your problem at first, that's still helpful. Just please make an appointment to talk with someone about your bulimia. I guarantee that no one will judge you or think badly of you in any way, and that it will do you good. Take care of yourself, and God bless you!

      March 7, 2011 at 23:02 | Report abuse |
    • George Insurance

      Great – the road to recovery sounds promising.

      March 8, 2011 at 16:37 | Report abuse |
  3. Justina

    How sad in the best country of abundance in the midst of our forefathers' dream era... Are American teenagers ever thankful to God that they have food to eat? Do they know the half human population on earth don't have what they need including enough food? Thanklessness is the most serious desease. Parents and educators must work on it.

    March 7, 2011 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LEB

      Aaaand you clearly know nothing about mental illness. Someone who has an eating disorder or other mental illness is NOT cured by people asininely saying, "What do you have to be depressed about? Other people have it worse than you." Mental illness alters your perception of reality, and it as much physical as psychological/emotional. You can't cure a paraplegic by saying, "Oh, pish posh, you could walk if you really wanted to," so why would you view someone with mental illness any less seriously?

      March 7, 2011 at 20:32 | Report abuse |
    • ohiomd

      As a physician as well as a female that is struggling with anorexia since first being diagnosed at the age of 12, I am beyond insulted and angered by your ignorant comment. Yes, I realize what country I live in. Yes, I realize how thankful we all should be. I am Jewish and pray daily. At a minimum I volunteer my time to help with a free clinic 4 days every month. I have also been fighting this disease for almost 20 years. This is not a choice. Your misunderstanding is disapointing and uneducated. This is a mental illness that is a part of us whether we are "thankful" or not. Every day is a battle. Yes, I am controlling the illness and eat everyday. It is beyond a struggle that I overcome every day I am alive and to tell me that I am an ungreatful person is beyond digusting. I hope that you will never, ever have to feel the torture that a person with an eating disorder experiences on a daily basis. I hope you will never have to understand.

      March 7, 2011 at 20:44 | Report abuse |
    • tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Justina, would you just go away? You are an ignoramus and a detriment to any rational discussion.

      March 7, 2011 at 21:17 | Report abuse |
    • Jabberwocky

      "Thanklessness is the most serious disease"? No, it isn't, you dimwitted trollop. The most serious disease is ignorance, and you're a carrier. Get yourself immunized with some information and education, Justina. If there were any justice, you'd be quarantined so your idiocy didn't spread to others as stupid as you are.

      March 7, 2011 at 21:19 | Report abuse |
    • RosaFranklin

      I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Justina, and assume that based on your ridiculously absurd and outrageously offensive comment that you must be a troll. So I guess if your goal was to be just another internet troll...good job?

      March 7, 2011 at 23:07 | Report abuse |
    • JMFinDE

      Justina,
      An eating disorder is a mental illness as stated by the responders above. As for "Thanklessness is the most serious desease," I believe it is ignorance that causes the most harm. Your perspective on this clearly shows your lack of understanding of a very serious disease, and your comments were more harmful than helpful due to your ignorance on this topic. I hope you will take the time to learn more about eating disorders and be able to open your heart and mind to the pain that these people are dealing with rather than doling out harsh judgements.

      March 8, 2011 at 13:21 | Report abuse |
    • Jabberwocky

      Oh, your words will fall on deaf ears and a dull brain. Justina has trouble tying her own shoes.

      March 8, 2011 at 21:53 | Report abuse |
  4. Kati

    I suffered with bulimia for years as a teenager and a young adult. I eventually got over it, more or less, but it does return every once in a while, sort of like an old best friend whom you love dearly but you know is bad for you.

    Eating disorders are NOT about vanity; I didn't care if anyone else thought I was skinny, but I cared that *I* thought I was skinny. But it does seem closely related to self-image issues. For example, those with eating disorders often suffer with body dysmorphic disorder, low self-esteem, and/or an unhealthy tendency towards perfectionism. Clearly, there's something amiss in the brain of someone with an eating disorder.

    March 7, 2011 at 23:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Daina

    Never had an eating disorder or weight problem; has to be much more difficult than alcohol. All I need to do is not drink; never have to be around the stuff thus I've always felt it is probably a walk in the park compared to needing to face ones' demon daily to survive.

    March 8, 2011 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tcat

    People talk about image issues and what not, and I agree that is the motivation for a good number of occasions, but psychology also demonstrates that eating disorders are about the person having a craving to posses meticulous control over their body functions. A person with an eating disorder may think like this "I am hungry, I wonder how long I can control that hunger." The problem often arises when a perceived lack of control over one's life causes them to seek alternate aspects of their life that they can control. When the body is under stress (IE over work, vomiting, hunger) It may cause a sense of euphoria akin to a "runner's high". This gives positive reenforcement for the behavior and the persons eating disorder becomes an addiction.

    March 8, 2011 at 05:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Carrie

    I had full-blown anorexia when I was 17-18 (I'm now 23). I agree with what others said; Anorexia is definitely not just about being thin. I was experiencing the physical implications of anorexia, but the root of the problem was so much deeper. For me, it was my parent’s divorce. I always told people “My parent’s splitting up doesn’t bother me…” Well at that time, looking at my 90 lb, 5’5 frame would tell you otherwise. Because I wasn’t properly handling my emotions of my parents’ divorce, I turned them inward on myself. My devastation could have easily turned into alcoholism, drug use, etc… but the eating disorder is just the way my mind decided to handle it.

    I’m happy to say, through 3 years of one-on-one therapy and seeing a nutritionist, I can say I'm recovered, happier, smarter, and very in-tune with my body.

    March 8, 2011 at 07:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pam

      My daughter has been suffering with bulemia for 3yrs now. She has also taken to restricting herself. We have been to different therapists to get her help and have tried different methods to help her. She is now almost 17yrs old and we went to a childrens hospital and were told that she needed a residential program. Well, unfortunately our insurance doesn't cover that, the only thing it does is inpatient and her labs were within reason...so, our daughter needs to get worse before they can help her...amazing...so, we have taken to bribing her and that seems to be somewhat working, seeing that we have nowhere else to turn...hopefully this will continue to work...

      March 8, 2011 at 08:59 | Report abuse |
    • Hannah

      @ Pam and Caring Mom – I, too, have seen the heartbreak insurance agencies put families through because of their lack of coverage. There are residential treatment facilities that work with families and offer amazing scholarships. Pam, I encourage you to check out Selah House in Anderson, Indiana. They have a wonderful group of financial professionals that will work with you. Eating disorders are a serious problem. To have your voice heard, get involved with the Eating Disorder Coalition – http://www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org/index.htm. These people are passionate about advancing the federal recognition of eating disorders as a public health priority.

      March 8, 2011 at 10:58 | Report abuse |
    • M

      Pam, I'm sorry you're dealing with this. My daughter did "successfully" complete an inpatient program at 13 years old, but immeidately lost the weight again once she returned home. It wasn't until we found a therapist who specialized in OCD that we had any success in keeping her healthy. It's stilll a daily battle for all of us, but we are getting there. Often eating disorders are a form of OCD that goes undiagnosed and untreated. Perhaps your child has such an underlying issue. Best of luck to you in dealing with this.

      March 8, 2011 at 11:57 | Report abuse |
  8. Caring Mom

    To Pam, I know what struggles you are going thru. My daughter is now 19 and struggles still to stay healthy. She was 16 when a friend of hers had the courage to come to me and tell me what my daughter was doing. Our insurance denied us as well. But, I knew my daughter was worth the fight. She had been dealing with her eating disorder since she was 13 I thought I should have known. But as we learned thru many therapist they learn to hide it. It took a call from my daughter telling me she was on the bathroom floor in school and wanted to die for the insurance company to take a second look. We did the hardest thing a parent has to do and had her sent to an adolesence hospital for behavioral health. Our insurance didn't pay but the place worked with us. i know it is hard but most eating disorders are a sign of wanting to feel in control of something. My daughter thru a great therapist finally confessed to being abused many years ago. She is working to stay healthy and sometimes struggles but she tells us now that knowing how much we loved her made it all worth getting better. My prayers are with your daughter and your family.

    I also pray for all the young women and men that struggle with eating disorders you are worth fighting for, so stay strong and take each day one at a time.

    March 8, 2011 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MJ

      Thank you for fighting for your daughter's life. I know first hand the devastation of eating disorders. I struggled for 25 years in secrecy. You both are courageous to break the silence of the secrets surrounding abuse. It was looking at the abuse issues in my own life that began to put my eating disorder in perspective. It is by the grace of God that I am alive.

      March 9, 2011 at 13:15 | Report abuse |
  9. Cynic

    Since obese people are now the new lepers, perhaps anorexia should be encouraged.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jabberwocky

      Your stupidity and ignorance rival Justina's, and that's really saying quite a lot.

      March 8, 2011 at 21:54 | Report abuse |
  10. StarSun

    Anorexics hate fat people even more than the rest of society.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Hintofgray

    Wrong thread. Take your problems elsewhere.

    March 8, 2011 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
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    dude thats not cool

    March 9, 2011 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
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