Obesity in teens is a big problem but so is disordered eating. Several years ago, it seemed like every media outlet was shouting from the rooftops about the childhood obesity epidemic. Back then, I wondered how the obesity panic was going to affect kids and teens. Scaring and shaming kids into weight loss (I’d like to say healthy habits, but shedding pounds appears to be the main focus) can bring other unhealthy consequences.
According to recent research in November’s International Journal of Eating Disorders, disordered eating, such as not eating enough, skipping meals, fasting and using food substitutes, was actually common among a sample of 412 overweight teens (see here for abstract). The teens completed self-report questionnaires in 1998-1999 and again five years later. This research is part of a big longitudinal study from the University of Minnesota called Project EAT.
(Time 1 refers to EAT I; and Time 2 is EAT II):
- Among the 232 overweight female adolescents, 30.8 percent engaged in disordered eating at Time 1; at Time 2, it increased to 40.1 percent.
- Of girls who didn’t engage in disordered eating initially, about one-third of them started to by Time 2.
- Among the 71 girls who were already engaging in disordered eating at Time 1, about half continued engaging in disordered eating at Time 2.
- Among the 180 overweight male adolescents, 13.4 percent engaged in disordered eating at Time 1; at Time 2, 20.2 percent did.
- Among the 24 overweight males engaging in disordered eating behaviors at Time 1, 37.6 percent continued at Time 2.
- Of the boys who didn’t engage in disordered eating, 17.5 percent started by Time 2.
Disordered eating behaviors can also serve as a gateway to more extreme methods of weight control, such as self-induced vomiting, diet pills, laxatives and diuretics. In fact, almost all the girls who reported disordered eating at Time 2 used at least one extreme method and a third reported binge eating, with loss of control. Same with the boys: The majority who engaged in disordered eating also used extreme methods and almost a third reported binge …