Early Eating Disorders Predict High Risk for Other Unhealthy Behaviors
Young girls who engage in binge eating and purging have been found to be at greater risk for a variety of unhealthy behaviors including drug abuse and binge drinking.
Young girls who display symptoms of bulimia and anorexia are also more likely to become obese and to be affected by depression. This connection underscores the need to focus on prevention of all types of eating disorders among young girls and teens.
Harvard Medical School researchers recently published the results of a study that confirmed the connection between early eating disorders and other unhealthy behaviors and conditions. The study focused on binge eating disorder (BED) and purging disorder (PD) because they are the most common types of eating disorders. The study was published online in July in the journal Pediatrics and is one of the first that focuses on the physical and mental outcomes that can be predicted by the presence of binge eating and purging disorders in young girls and teenagers.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 8,500 females who participated in an ongoing health study called Growing Up Today. Data was derived from surveys that were sent to participants aged 9 through 15 every year from 1996 and 2001 and every two years since then. Participants who engaged in binge eating, purging or a combination of the two behaviors more than once per week were classified as having an eating disorder for the purposes of the study.
In addition to answering questions about their eating behavior, participants were questioned about prescription drug abuse as well as the use of illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, methamphetamine and LSD. They were also asked about the number of episodes of being drinking within the previous year. Questions were also included to determine the presence of depressive symptoms.
Researchers reported that 2 to 3 percent of girls in the study had BED while another 2 to 3 percent were affected by PD (with about 1 percent of the girls having both disorders). Compared to non-disordered participants, participants in the BED group were nearly twice as likely to become obese or overweight as the study progressed and to develop serious depression. Girls with PD were significantly more likely to begin abusing drugs and have frequent binge-drinking episodes.
Based on their findings, researchers concluded that BED and PD are common and can be used to predict a range of adverse outcomes. According to Alison Field, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard and leader of the study, "Future research should assess whether adolescents who binge and/or purge monthly need or benefit from treatment." Field suggests that a staged approach for eating disorder treatment may be needed since the severity of the disorder can vary widely.