Kids and teens who reported overeating, including binge eating, were more likely to start using marijuana and other drugs in a new study based on surveys of close to 17 000 youths.
Binge eating was also tied to a higher chance of depression and becoming overweight or obese, researchers found.
"Physicians and parents should be aware that both overeating and binge eating are quite common in adolescents, and these problems put them at risk for other problems, such as drug use," said Dr Kendrin Sonneville, the study's lead author from Boston Children's Hospital.
"The earlier we can screen for who is at risk, the more able we are to prevent the onset of drug use," she said.
Treatment from a dietician or therapist could help head off future problems, she added.
Her team used data from a large study of 16 882 kids and teens, initially between age nine and 15, who filled out health-related questionnaires every year or two between 1996 and 2005.
At any point during that time, up to 1% of boys and up to 3% of girls said they binged regularly. Those rates were reversed - about 3% of boys and 1% of girls - among kids who overate without loss of control.
Eating too much can be a problem
During the study period, 41% of youths started using marijuana and 32% used other illicit drugs. Kids and teens who had reported overeating on surveys were 2.7 times more likely to start using marijuana or other drugs, and binge eaters were 1.9 times more likely to take up drugs.
Researchers have thought teens that lose control while eating might also be at risk for other impulsive behaviours, such as drug use, Dr Sonneville said. But her findings showed any kids who overate - whether they reported losing control or not - were more likely to start experimenting with drugs.
It's not clear yet why that might be the case.
But overeating without loss of control wasn't tied to obesity, so, Dr Sonneville said, it's important to know that eating too much can be a problem for reasons other than weight, and that extra weight isn't the only sign of worrisome eating.
"It may be easy to overlook eating problems in normal-weight or healthy-weight kids," she said.
"We need to think about eating habits even before they maybe affect a kid's weight, but realise these may be a risk factor for other problems down the road."
(Reuters Health, December 2012)
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