Young teens who binge eat and those who are
fearful of weight gain may be more likely to become overweight later in
adolescence, according to a new study from the United Kingdom.
Researchers looked for early symptoms of
eating disorders among more than 7 000 13-year-olds and found certain symptoms
predicted which children would have weight problems at age 15. Girls who
engaged in binge eating at 13 had an average increase in body mass index (BMI),
a measure of weight relative to height, of 24% two years later.
Both boys and girls who severely restricted
their eating at 13 had lower BMIs when they were two years older. "The most
important message is that even at this young age, a high percentage of boys and
girls have worrying eating disorders symptoms," Dr Nadia Micali told
Reuters Health in an e-mail.
Micali led the study from the Institute of
Child Health at University College London.
Read: What is binge eating disorder?
She and her colleagues gathered data from
an ongoing UK trial that includes parents and kids. From surveys filled out by
parents, the researchers collected information on eating disorder symptoms
among 7 082 teens at age 13 – such as binging, excessive concerns over body
weight or shape and behaviours like restricting food intake.
The team also looked at links between these
symptoms and other aspects of the teens' social, academic, extracurricular and
Overall, 63% of girls and 39% of boys were
afraid of gaining weight or getting fat. Extreme levels of fear of weight gain
or concerns about body shape or weight were seen among 11% of girls.
Girls avoided fatty foods more often than
boys, while boys were more likely to do intense exercise for weight loss.
Even at age 13, overeating and binging was
strongly linked to negative impacts on the child's life and burden to family
among both boys and girls, the researchers report in the Journal of Adolescent
Read: Manorexia actually exists
Link to emotional troubles
Binging and overeating were especially
linked to emotional and behavioural troubles for both genders. Cutting back on
food was linked to mental health disturbances among boys more than girls.
Excessive concern over weight and shape
also had a significant impact on girls, Micali notes, "but parents
probably don't recognise the impact of this pattern on a child's life in
boys," she said.
The findings are a reminder that boys do
suffer from eating disorders and related problems.
According to Kathleen Merikangas, chief of
the Genetic Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, the
results suggest that lack of regular eating patterns could be a target
for intervention and prevention of obesity in youth.
Read: What is anorexia?
Distorted body image
Merikangas, who was not involved in
the research, added that the take-home message remains clear for parents: eating
disorders during the teen years offer a window into the risk of obesity later. Parents
need to be aware if their child has a distorted image of their body, Merikangas
"Pretending not to notice or thinking that eating disorders behaviour
will go away" are not good strategies, Micali said. Talk to them to understand if their
eating disorder behaviours are a reflection of other more deep-seated
problems. "Try not to be confrontational but supportive
and firm. If they are worried, parents should seek help from a
health professional," she said.
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