Many young teens are very concerned about weight. For some teens, that concern can develop into an eating disorder, which can lead to many health problems.
Researchers recently examined eating disorders in 13-year-olds, the impact of these disorders on the teens and their families and the effects of the disorders on their body mass a couple years later.
The results of this research showed that bingeing was associated with higher body mass two years later, while food restriction by teens was associated with lower body mass two years later.
The lead author of this research was Janet Treasure, PhD, from the Eating Disorders Research Unit in the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London, UK.
The goals of Dr. Treasure and team's research were to see how common eating disorders were in young girls and boys, look for other emotional or behavioral problems, and see the effect on future body mass. They also evaluated the effect eating disorders had on the adolescents’ families.
This research team used existing data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children given in the United Kingdom. The researchers sent questionnaires to the parents of 10,135 children from that study who were over 13 years old, and 7,165 answered the questionnaire. The average age of the children was 13.1 years, and 99 percent were younger than 13.9 years old.
Answers collected on the eating disorder section of the Development and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA) provided the data for this research.
The survey was made up of 28 questions on eating disorder behavior and attitudes toward weight, one question on the burden of an eating disorder on the family and four questions on how eating disorders or weight concerns affected the adolescent’s life. Responses provided information on psychiatric diagnoses in the adolescents, such as anorexia, bulimia and eating disorders. Parents were asked to report on any binge eating by their child.
Data on body mass at age 15 was taken from 4,467 adolescents in the study and compared to their body mass at age 13.
The results showed that 63.2 percent of girls were very worried about gaining weight.
Cutting down on how much food they ate, was used to control weight by 2.4 percent of the girls and 1.8 percent of the boys.
Both boys and girls used exercise to control their weight.
Bingeing or overeating at least once a week was reported in 1.2 percent of the boys and 0.8 percent of the girls.
The researchers found that the use of vomiting and laxatives was low, with only 0.23 percent of girls and 0.16 percent of boys using these methods for weight control.
When the researchers looked at the effects of eating disorders on the adolescents' personal and family life, they found that in girls, overeating increased the chance of affecting the family in a negative way by 60 percent and increased the chance of affecting the child’s activities of normal life, such as social interactions, sports, hobbies and learning by 47 percent.
The family and personal lives of boys who had eating disorders were affected to the same extent as the girls'.
Concerns about weight and body shape were associated with negative effects on both the activities of boys and girls, but was only considered a burden by the families of girls who showed theses concerns. Food restriction increased the chance of burdening families of girls by 17 percent and increased the chance of affecting the everyday activities of boys by 25 percent.
The researchers found an association between using food restriction for weight control and being overweight in 13-year-old boys. Girls who were normal weight tended to use food restriction for weight control.
The researchers concluded that overweight boys decreased food consumption as part of a healthy way to control weight and girls decreased food intake in a potentially unhealthy way when they were already at a normal weight.
Bingeing and overeating predicted a higher body mass two years later. Food restriction resulted in a lower body mass at age 15.
Dr. Treasure and team concluded that their study supported the findings of other researchers and suggested that overeating and weight concerns may predict higher body mass two years later and might be risk factors for obesity.
These researchers noted that a limitation of the study was the fact that parents completed information on eating disorder symptoms, behaviors and effects on the family. The researchers felt the parents may not have seen or known all the eating behaviors of their children, so the data collected might have underestimated those items.
Andre F. Hall, MD, board certified obstetrician/gynecologist at Birth and Women's Care in Fayetteville, NC, said, "Eating disorders early in life often will translate into problems with weight later in life. One truism that I have noticed with patients that I take care of is that people who are overweight as children continue to be overweight as adults. This then increases their risks of a host of medical conditions such as hypertension, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, and joint disease."
Dr. Hall continued with, "Therefore it is important that we teach our children healthy eating habits such as avoiding binge eating, the importance of balanced meals throughout the day and sweets and deserts only in moderation. These habits often carry over into adult life and promote an overall feeling of wellbeing."
This study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The research presented here was funded by a National Institute of Health Research clinician scientist award and by a Wellchild project grant.
The researchers reported no conflict of interest.