Researchers looked for early symptoms of eating
disorders among more than 7,000 13-year-olds and found certain
symptoms predicted which children would have weight problems at age
Girls who engaged in binge eating at 13 tended to have a higher body
mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, two years
Both boys and girls who severely restricted their eating at 13 had
lower BMIs when they were two years older.
"The most important message is that even at this young age, a high
percentage of boys and girls have worrying eating disorders
symptoms," Dr. Nadia Micali told Reuters Health in an email.
Micali led the study from the Institute of Child Health at
University College London.
She and her colleagues gathered data from an ongoing UK trial that
includes parents and kids. From surveys filled out by parents, the
researchers collected information on eating disorder symptoms among
7,082 teens at age 13 — such as binging, excessive concerns over
body weight or shape and behaviors like restricting food intake.
The team also looked at links between these symptoms and other
aspects of the teens' social, academic, extracurricular and family
Overall, 63 percent of girls and 39 percent of boys were afraid of
gaining weight or getting fat. Extreme levels of fear of weight gain
or concerns about body shape or weight were seen among 11 percent of
Girls avoided fatty foods more often than boys, while boys were more
likely to do intense exercise for weight loss.
Even at age 13, overeating and binging was strongly linked to
negative impacts on the child's life and burden to family among both
boys and girls, the researchers report in the Journal of Adolescent
Binging and overeating were especially linked to emotional and
behavioral troubles for both genders. Cutting back on food was
linked to mental health disturbances among boys more than girls.
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Excessive concern over weight and shape also had a significant
impact on girls, Micali notes, "but parents probably don't recognize
the impact of this pattern on a child's life in boys," Micali said.
The findings are a reminder that boys do suffer from eating
disorders and related problems. (See Reuters Health article of
Nov. 5, 2013, here: http://reut.rs/1cOa04x.)
According to Kathleen Merikangas, chief of the Genetic Epidemiology
Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, the results
suggest that "lack of regular eating patterns could be a target for
intervention and prevention of obesity in youth."
Merikangas, who was not involved in the research, added, the
take-home message remained clear for parents: eating disorders
during the teen years offer a window into the risk of obesity later.
Parents need to be aware if their child has a distorted image of
their body, Merikangas said.
"Pretending not to notice or thinking that eating disorders behavior
will go away" are not good strategies, Micali said.
"Talk to them to understand if their eating disorder behaviors are a
reflection of other more deep-seated problems," Micali said. "Try
not to be confrontational but supportive and firm."
"If they are worried, parents should seek help from a health
professional," she said.
Journal of Adolescent Health, online
Dec 18, 2013.
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