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How Common Are Eating Disorders In Adolescence

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Foster A Healthy Relationship With Food

You can encourage older children and adolescents to develop a healthy relationship with food if you:

  • Try not to label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ this sets up cravings and feelings of guilt when the ‘bad’ foods are eaten.
  • Avoid using food as a reward, or for bribes or punishment.
  • Accept that children are likely to have different eating habits from adults for instance, adolescents may require more food more frequently during the day or may go through periods of liking or disliking particular foods.
  • Avoid going on diets and do not try to put your child on a diet.
  • Allow your child to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Do not force your child to eat everything that is on their plate.

Stress And Negative Mood

How we feel can put us at risk for an ED.

Teenage years can be stressful and emotional. How a person can handle these tough years can influence whether or not an ED will develop.

Teens who find themselves not equipped to deal well emotionally to negative situations, events, or circumstances are more likely to turn to food for comfort in these situations. Over time, this can develop into a habit, which can then lead to a clinically significant ED Stice, E. . Risk and maintenance factors for eating pathology: a meta-analytic review. Psychological bulletin, 128, 82.

General Statistics On Eating Disorders

  • Eating disorders are a daily struggle for 10 million females and 1 million males in the United States.
  • Four out of ten  individuals have either personally experienced an eating disorder or know someone who has.

Over a lifetime, the following percentages of women and men will experience an eating disorder:

How Do Eating Disorders Affect Health And Emotions

Eating disorders can cause serious problems throughout the body.

Anorexia can lead to health problems caused by undernutrition and low body weight, such as:

  • low blood pressure
  • feeling tired, weak, dizzy, or faint
  • constipation and bloating

Questions For Your Doctor

Some Common Eating Disorders in Teenagers

  • What should I do if I suspect my teen has an eating disorder?
  • My teen doesnt like to eat in front of anyone. Should I worry?
  • My teen is always dieting, and Im concerned. What can I do?
  • How can I tell if my teen is at a healthy weight?
  • What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
  • Will vitamins help fill the nutrition gap for my teen?

Adolescents And Eating Disorders: What Are The Signs

Table of Contents

The adolescent years are a time of growth and transformation in many ways. Children will come up against new challenges and changes biologically, mentally and physically as they move into their teen years and into adulthood. They will work on becoming more independent, establishing new relationships outside of the home and learning to accept their changing bodies.

Along with physical development, they will also be working through new internal developments. With so many changes physically and psychologically, some adolescents will develop one or more eating disorders during this complicated time in life. While many advancements have been made when it comes to eating disorder treatment, parents should be aware that adolescents often need specialized eating disorder therapy.

Studies show that when children hit puberty, changes in the brains socio-emotional system make them more concerned with being socially accepted. These hormonal changes, along with other societal pressures and biological factors can make adolescents highly susceptible to crash dieting or disordered eating behaviors. Early intervention is extremely important for teens, as they have a better chance of overcoming their disordered eating behaviors before the condition escalates into a life-threatening illness.

Other Causes Of Eating Disorders

Genetics: Heredity plays a role. Eating disorders often  in families. Studies of twins reveal that genetic factors account for 40 to 50 percent of eating disorder risk factors, including teen anorexia, teen bulimia, and teen binge-eating disorder.

Brain Functioning: There is a connection between eating disorders and brain functioning. Imaging studies have linked eating disorders to irregular brain activity patterns.

Perfectionism:recent study linked eating disorders to perfectionism in teens. For some teens, eating disorders are fueled by parental expectations and rigid thinking patterns.

Common Signs And Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Extremely restricted eating patterns
  • Appearing considerably underweight when compared to peers of the same gender and age
  • Developing a distorted body image or denial that they are underweight
  • Fear of gaining weight, persistent dieting and restricting despite being underweight
  • Refusing to eat with others, eating meals in their room or hoarding food
  • Avoiding certain foods or food groups
  • Fasting or restricting calories

Boys And Girls Experience Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are more likely to affect females than males. However, about 25 per cent of cases in adolescents occur with males.Girls and boys can experience different social pressures about how they should look. Primary school-aged children are not immune to these pressures, and their attitudes and behaviours reflect adult concerns.Like many adult females, some girls want to lose weight and be thin. Like many adult males, some boys want to lose body fat, but increase muscle mass. Some boys try to meet unrealistically thin ideal standards.

Common Mental Health Disorders*

Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder : Excessive anxiety and worry about a number of events or activities. The intensity, duration, or frequency of the anxiety and worry is out of proportion to the actual likelihood or effect of the anticipated event. The individual finds it difficult to control the worry and to keep worrisome thoughts from interfering with attention to tasks at hand. Somatic symptoms frequently are associated.

Social Anxiety Disorder: Marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations, provoking symptoms of anxiety and causing extreme distress or avoidance of the situation.

Panic Disorder: Recurrent unexpected panic attacks.

Panic Attack: An abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and during which time four or more of 13 physical and cognitive symptoms occur .

ObsessiveCompulsive Disorder : Although the specific content of obsessions and compulsions varies among individuals, certain symptom dimensions are common in OCD, including those of cleaning ; symmetry ; forbidden or taboo thoughts ; and harm .

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder : The development of characteristic symptoms after exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.

Mood Disorders

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity or impulsivity present for at least 6 months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level.

Teenage Eating Disorder Statistics

Lets now turn out attention towards some key figures related to the different types of EDs in the teen years. These figures are based on some well-conducted individual studies, and they clearly demonstrate just how pervasive EDs are in teen years.

Readers may refer to the following book as a guide for the following figures Le Grange, D., & Lock, J. . . Eating disorders in children and adolescents: A clinical handbook. Guilford Press.

  • Incidence rates of anorexia nervosa for female teens are as high as 270 per 100,00 people and for males, they are as high as 15.7 per 100,000 people.
  • Fewer than 50% of teens seek treatment for anorexia nervosa
  • Anorexia nervosa is the third most common chronic illness in adolescent females.
  • The lifetime prevalence rates of anorexia nervosa range from 1.8-2.6% in teens.
  • Fewer than 33% seek of teens seek treatment for bulimia nervosa.
  • Incidence rates for female teens of bulimia nervosa are estimated at 300/100,00 person-years and for men, these rates are estimates at 6.3/100,00 person-years.
  • The peak age of incidence rates for bulimia nervosa falls between 16-20 years.
  • Lifetime prevalence rates of bulimia nervosa estimates to be as high as 3.2% in adolescents.
  • Binge-eating disorder peaks at around 19-20 years of age.
  • In both females and males, binge-eating disorder rates more than triple from ages 14 to ages 20

Early Warning Signs Of Eating Disorders

Adolescents can become fussy about particular foods or lose weight for lots of reasons. It is important to get any concerns checked by a health professional.Some signs that a young person might have an eating disorder and that should be investigated further include:

  • rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • changes in shape

For Parents: Eating Disorders In Teens

Do Adolescents with Eating Disorders Ever Get Well?

An eating disorder is a focus on food and bodyweight that causes a person to go to extremes when it comes to eating. Three of the most common eating disorders are binge eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia.

Eating disorders often develop during the teenage years or in early adulthood. Theyre more common among teenage girls but can affect teenage boys, too. They can be very stressful and damaging to a teens overall well being. The social effects include low self-esteem and isolation. Eating disorders can cause serious health problems that can become life-threatening.

Its not unusual for teens to change their eating habits from time to time. Some teens experiment with a different eating style or go on a diet to lose weight. They may occasionally skip a meal. Often, these changes pass quickly. Watch your teens behavior and eating patterns carefully. This will help you spot the difference between occasional dieting and an eating disorder.

There are many different signs and symptoms of eating disorders. Sometimes theyre obvious, but not always. Often, a person will work very hard to hide an eating disorder. The below lists some signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia. If you notice any of these signs and symptoms in your teen, talk to your doctor. He or she can help evaluate your teens specific symptoms and recommend the best way to help.

Eating Disorders Commonly Found In Teens

Theres more pressure than ever on teens to be thin. Social media, magazines, and commercials send the message that being extremely thin is the ideal body type.

Many teens experience serious body image issues, which places them at risk of taking drastic measures to slim down. From crash diets to excessive exercise, the pressure to be thin can take a serious toll on a teens well-being.

Research suggests about 1% or 2% of all teens develop an eating disorder at one time or another.

Eating disorders often begin in children in as young as 12. Here are the types of eating disorders commonly found in teenagers:

What Is An Eating Disorder

An eating disorder is a serious mental health disorder that is centered on body image, body weight and an obsession with food and associated distressing emotions and thoughts. Eating disorders can affect physical, psychological and social aspects of life. They often go overlooked but can be deadly if left untreated. 

The most common types of eating disorders include bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder and other specified eating and feeding disorders, including pica and rumination disorder.

Eating disorders impact nearly 5% of the population while most develop during adolescence or young adulthood. Anorexia and bulimia are more common in women but can occur at any age or affect any gender. 

Eating disorders typically occur during adolescence or pre-adolescence. Over 90% of teens with eating disorders are female. 

Those with eating disorders often experience what is called body dysmorphia, which involves thinking about real or perceived flaws for hours each day coupled with an inability to control negative thoughts. People with eating disorders often find that they are inadequate due to their appearance and continue to struggle, often facing severe emotional distress, even if others reassure them that they are fine.

The General Role Of The Obstetriciangynecologist

Obstetriciangynecologists should ask about any mental illness diagnoses and treatments, especially medications and family history, and coordinate care with the patients mental health care providers. Obstetriciangynecologists who care for minors should be aware of federal and state laws that affect confidentiality, state statutes on the rights of minors to consent to health care services, and the regulations that apply to their practice. During preventive care visits, all adolescents should be screened for any mental health disorder in a confidential setting by asking questions such as those listed in Box 3. The Patient Health Questionnaire , validated for use with adolescents, is a useful screening tool Box 4. This can be self-completed by the patient or administered by the obstetriciangynecologist or office staff. The last question screens for suicidal thinking. Many institutions use the PHQ-2, the first two questions, as the initial screen.

Box 3.

Common Types Of Eating Disorders

Although the term eating is in the name, eating disorders are about more than food. Theyre complex mental health conditions that often require the intervention of medical and psychological experts to alter their course.

These disorders are described in the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition .

In the United States alone, an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men have or have had an eating disorder at some point in their life .

This article describes 6 of the most common types of eating disorders and their symptoms.

Eating disorders are a range of psychological conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits to develop. They might start with an obsession with food, body weight, or body shape.

In severe cases, eating disorders can cause serious health consequences and may even result in death if left untreated.

Those with eating disorders can have a variety of symptoms. However, most include the severe restriction of food, food binges, or purging behaviors like vomiting or over-exercising.

Although eating disorders can affect people of any gender at any life stage, theyre most often reported in adolescents and young women. In fact, up to 13% of youth may experience at least one eating disorder by the age of 20 .

Summary Eating disorders are mental health conditions marked by an obsession with food or body shape. They can affect anyone but are most prevalent among young women.

Signs And Symptoms Of Eating Disorders

Some of the common symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • Avoiding meals or other socializing with food involved
  • Hoarding food
  • Going to the bathroom directly after meals
  • Anxiety
  • Abusing laxatives or diuretics
  • Restricting certain food groups
  • Food rituals

One by one, these symptoms bight me easy to overlook or ignore peoples bodies, personalities, and actions certainly change in adolescence and parents might thing these behaviors are passing. However, since the overwhelming evidence shows that this time in a persons life can set the course for later, adult eating behaviors, parents should be aware of them and ready to respond. Professionals and treatment centers put great importance on honest, non-judgmental communication during this time.

Useful Questions For Screening For Mental Health Disorders

  • Do you worry a lot or feel overly stressed out? How do you cope with stress?

  • Do you feel bored, sad, or irritable most of the time? How do you cope with this?

  • Do you have any difficulty with sleeping or appetite?

  • Do you find yourself continuing to think about past unpleasant experiences?

  • Do you ever feel so upset that you wished you were not alive or wanted to die?

Data from Hagan JF, Shaw JS, Duncan PM, editors. Bright Futures: guidelines for health supervision of infants, children, and adolescents. 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village : American Academy of Pediatrics; 2008.

Box 4.

Where To Find Help

The National Eating Disorders Association, or NEDA, is a good starting place. It supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders.

is an international nonprofit organization run by caregivers of those suffering from eating disorders, meant to help others.

Maudsley Parents was created by parents who helped their children recover with family-based treatment, to offer hope and help to other families confronting eating disorders.

Comprehensive Eating Disorder Counseling And Treatment

The onsent of eating disorders during adolescence is ...

When left untreated, eating disorders can lead to a number of significant medical complications. That is one of the biggest reasons why parents and families should work hard to make sure adolescents receive care from a comprehensive eating disorder treatment program. Comprehensive care typically includes access to a medical doctor, psychologist and/or therapists, a dietitian or nutritionist and a physical therapist. However, it is also important to keep in mind that families and even close friends will play a key role in the recovery process.

Eating disorders can damage many different parts of the body including the brain, bones, heart, liver and kidneys. Access to medical care is often necessary to not only help correct changes in metabolism, but to monitor young teens for any related health complications. Additionally, psychologists or therapists can help kids learn proper skills to cope with negative behaviors and the distorted thinking patterns that often accompany an eating disorder.

Signs Your Adolescent May Have An Eating Disorder

If your adolescent is displaying physical symptoms like fatigue, constipation, nausea after eating, loss of menstruation in females, or any of the signs below, they may have an eating disorder. Seek treatment immediately to decrease the chance for severe physical harm and to increase their likelihood for recovery.

Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorder

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Focusing excessive attention on weight, food, calories, dieting, or body image
  • Refusing to eat with the family or eating in secret
  • Pushing food around on the plate instead of eating it, ritualized eating, or other abnormal eating habits
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, self-induced vomiting, and laxative abuse
  • Disappearance of large amounts of food or eating abnormally large amounts of food at one sitting may signal binge eating
  • Suddenly deciding to go on a strict diet, cut out certain food groups or restrict the times they will eat
  • Exercising compulsively, even when sick or injured
  • Self-isolating or withdrawing from family and friends
  • More anxious, depressed, or irritable
  • Expressing disgust about their own eating habits

People with an eating disorder are also more likely to have co-occurring anxiety or depressive disorder. For the best chance of long-term recovery, it is important to address all co-occurring conditions during treatment.

What If I Have An Eating Disorder

If you think you may have an eating disorder:

Tell someone. Tell a parent, teacher, counselor, or an adult you trust. Let them know what you’re going through. Ask them to help.

Get help early. When an eating disorder is caught early, a person has a better chance of recovery. Make an appointment with your doctor or an eating disorders specialist.

Go to all appointments. Treatment takes time and effort. Work hard to learn about yourself and your . Ask questions any time you have them.

Be patient with yourself. There’s so much to learn, and change happens a little at a time. Take care of yourself and be with people who support you.

Social Or Environmental Risk Factors

Social or environmental risk factors in the development of an eating disorder may include:

  • being teased or bullied
  • a belief that high expectations from family and others must be met
  • major life changes such as family break-up, or the accumulation of many minor stressors
  • peer pressure to behave in particular ways
  • a parent or other role model who consistently diets or who is unhappy with their body
  • media and advertising images of the ideal body size and shape as slim and fit
  • a cultural tendency to judge people by their appearance.

How Body Image Influences Disordered Eating In Teenagers

Aug 13, 2020 | Eating Disorder |

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, in the USA as many as 10 out of 100 young girls and women have received a diagnosis of an eating disorder. The true number, including boys and non-gender-conforming people, may be much higher as those groups tend to underreport eating disorders.While there are varied causes of disordered eating behaviors, including genetic factors and family environment, body dysmorphia is nearly always present.

Eating disorders come in various forms, and although their specific symptoms vary, from the definitive binge and purge cycle of bulimia nervosa to the avoidance of certain foods in ARFID, a troubled relationship with self-image, food, and eating is constant. Eating disorders can affect people regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, or any other demographic.

A simple way to define body image is the way a person sees themselves. While everyone struggles with negative body image sometimes, a persistent negative or distorted teen body image causes an irrationally unrealistic perception of how they look. The idea of being flawed or overweight can then lead to dieting and also more dangerous eating behaviors.

Eating Disorder Statistics By Sex

  • Eating disorders were more prevalent among young women than men in the U.S. as of 2001-2004.
  • A quarter of those with anorexia are male. Men have an increased risk of dying because they are diagnosed much later than women. This could be in part due to the misconception that men do not experience eating disorders.

What Are Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are illnesses that affect a persons relationship with food and body image. People with eating disorders have excessive thoughts of food, their body weight or shape, and how to control their intake of food. Types of eating disorders include: 

  • Anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by weight loss or maintenance by extreme dieting, starvation, or too much exercise.
  • Binge eating, which means to frequently consume an unusually large amount of food in one sitting. 
  • Bulimia nervosa, with symptoms include purging, taking laxatives, exercising, or fasting to avoid weight gain after binge eating.

One may experience this as an anxious state of mind, a depressed mood, or may have a mix of anxiety and depression, says Anna Hindell, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist based in New York. Turning to control and restricting food intake or becoming addicted to binging and purging is always a symptom or effect of an underlying feeling that the person lives with. It is usually some unresolved feeling related to low self-esteem, lack of worth, or repressed trauma. People turn to the attempt at controlling food intake or eating their emotions instead of dealing with the underlying problem, if untreated.

Other Specified Feeding Or Eating Disorders

If a teens eating habits or food-related behavior causes significant distress or impairment, yet doesnt meet the criteria for a specific eating disorder, it may still be an eating disorder. In addition to OSFED, Unspecified Feeding and Eating Disorders , where symptoms do not meet criteria for any other diagnostic category, was added to the the recent DSM-5.

Atypical anorexia, orthorexia nervosa, extreme food restrictions, excessive nighttime eating, and purging without bingeing are just a few examples of other eating disorders.

Risk Factors For Eating Disorders


We don’t know why some older children , particularly adolescents, develop an eating disorder and others don’t. However, many factors might influence an adolescent to develop an unhealthy eating pattern or to become afraid of gaining weight. These factors may be psychological, social, environmental or biological.

Often, a combination of things may trigger an eating disorder in a vulnerable person.

Emotional And Behavioral Signs Of Eating Disorders

  • Preoccupation with weight, calories, food, carbohydrates, fat grams, dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods
  • Skipping meals or eating small portions at regular meals
  • Attitudes that indicate dieting, weight loss, control of food
  • Any new preoccupation or practices with fad diets or food, including removing entire food groups 
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Extreme concern with body shape and size
  • Extreme mood swings

Teen Eating Disorders Are Deadly

Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a result of an eating disorder. The high death rate associated with anorexia is what makes eating disorders the deadliest of all mental illnesses. A review of nearly 50 years of research confirms that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

Anorexia statistics for teen girls and young women are especially alarming: For females between 15 and 24 years old who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death.

While the mortality rates for bulimia and binge eating are not as high as for anorexia, these eating disorders also have a significant impact on overall health.

The Netflix film To the Bone dramatizes the horrifying impact of anorexia on the body and mind. Chelsea Reeves, CADC, Director of Alumni Services at Newport Academy, spoke about the film in a live segment on ABC 7 Los Angeles. She explained that To the Bone does a great job in creating conversation and awareness about eating disorders, as well as the underlying issues that can cause them.

Watch the full interview.

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