Global study finds 22% of children and young adults struggle with eating disorders
21 Feb 2023 --- A global study including more than 63,000 children and adolescents showed that 22% of the population struggles with disordered eating. While highlighting the need for strategies to tackle this issue, the Spain and Ecuador-based researchers say, “these high figures are concerning from a public health perspective.”
Published in JAMA Pediatrics, the study found differences between genders, as girls were more likely to report disordered eating. Female children reported 30.3% disordered eating, while male children reported 16.98%. These findings also showed the significance that disordered eating increases with age.
The authors define eating disorders as “psychiatric disorders characterized by abnormal eating or weight control behaviors, which can lead to serious health problems” and are said to be one of the most life-threatening mental health conditions.
Conducted through a systematic review of 32 studies, the research included 63,181 participants across 16 countries from Europe, Asia, South America, North America and Africa.
One of the studies reviewed found that the onset age for developing disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating ranged from 12.3 to 12.6 years old among a US population including 10,123 adolescents.
The study also found that as BMI (body mass index) increased, there was an elevated risk for disordered eating. The researchers argue that compared to participants with a “normal weight,” young people with excess weight may follow a disordered eating pattern as they try to lose weight.
They add that the review contributes to epidemiological evidence on the issue of disordered eating and that “if undetected and untreated, it can lead to eating disorders with harmful consequences for the individual, the family and society.”
While highlighting the need for screening of eating disorders in a primary care setting, the researchers detail that it’s already in line with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescents Psychiatry. They conclude that this should be seen as a first step and should be followed up on.
Unhealthy eating patterns
They further detail that most adolescents did not report weight gain before developing an eating disorder. Healthy eating could be misinterpreted as unhealthy eating patterns, such as skipping meals or entering a calorie deficit to lose weight.
Recently, a Canadian study found that intermittent fasting among adolescents was linked to developing eating disorders. The researchers argued that this can be caused by the “strive for the ideal body shape or size per sociocultural norms.”
An example is the “toxic diet culture” on TikTok, as content relating to food, nutrition and weight lacks an “expert voice,” glorifying weight loss and promoting thinness as a measurement of good health.
Edited by Beatrice Wihlander
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