Eating disorders not just a fad for teens


We know that people who diet and have unhealthy ways of controlling their weights have poor dietary intakes. In addition, studies have shown us that these behaviours can predict an increase risk of weight gain, obesity and eating disorders in adolescents and young adults.

In this study reported in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2,287 individuals aged close to 13 or 16 at the baseline were followed for 10 years to ages 23 and 26. Questions followed over time included:

How often have you gone on a diet?
Have you: fasted, ate very little food, used a food substitute, skipped meals, smoked more cigarettes?
Have you: taken diet pills, make yourself vomit, used laxatives, used diuretics?
Have you binge eaten?

The study revealed that about 50% of girls had dieted in the past year, as compared to 25% of boys. That prevalence remained fairly constant from adolescence to adulthood in girls, but in boys, dieting increased in the older cohort as the participants aged.

When it came to extreme weight controlled behaviors, significant increases were noted from adolescence to adulthood in both groups of girls and the older group of boys. What is even more worrisome is that dieting and disordered eating tended to track to adulthood. Similarly, those with unhealthy weight control behaviours in adolescence were at a much greater risk for these behaviours in adulthood.

In general, the umbers of dieters and those with disordered eating patterns was high and, at best, remained constant or increased from adolescence to adulthood. Diet-pill use tripled on most of the age and sex groups over the 10 years. One-fifth of females in young adulthood reported the use of extreme weight control measures. Those who had these behaviours tracked forward over the 10 years of the study.

What this means is that this is not just a so-called phase adolescents go through, but instead, should send an alarm bell that dieting and disordered eating actually sets the stage as the authors point out for these behaviours later on. Almost 13% of adolescent girls and 2% of adolescent boys reported engaging in extreme behaviours and by adulthood those numbers became almost 21% and 7.3% respectively.

The study speaks to the fact that we have to intervene and prevent these behaviours very early and ask about these behaviours well before adolescence, throughout adolescence and into young adulthood. It is important to educate our kids that these behaviours actually put you at risk for obesity and difficulty on weight management. We need to support our kids with healthful eating, the role of physical activity and long term lifestyle approaches to healthy living.