Early Identification is Key to Saving Lives

by Dr. SooMi Lee-Samuel MD

A recent research study validated something that treatment professionals have always known: early identification of eating disorders is crucial; and in fact, may be key to saving young lives.

According to a six-year study conducted at Newcastle University in the UK, girls and boys with more eating disorder symptoms at age nine also had a higher number at age 12. These symptoms included rigid dieting, binge eating, making oneself sick after eating, and high levels of anxiety about being fat or gaining weight.

The research was not involved with investigating eating disorders; instead, it focused on risk factors for developing this disorder early in life. The study focused on three specific areas: boys and girls who experienced body dissatisfaction; girls who displayed depressive symptoms; and those, both boys and girls who had eating disorder symptoms at an earlier stage.

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Participants in the study completed questionnaires at the ages of seven, nine and 12. It was discovered that at the age of 12, boys and girls who were more dissatisfied with their bodies have greater numbers of eating disorder symptoms. Girls with depressive symptoms at 12 years old also have greater numbers of eating disorder symptoms. Interestingly, this relationship was not seen in boys.

In the UK, eating disorders are rare at age nine (1.64 per 100,000) but more prevalent at age 12 (9.51 per 100,000). The most common age for hospitalization is 15 years old for both boys and girls.

A follow-up study will be conducted when participants reach the age of 15.

This will allow researchers to determine what transpired next for those young people who had greater numbers of eating disorders at age 12.

Although this study was conducted in another country, the findings are certainly applicable to the United States. Eating disorders are a worldwide menace, and as such, it will take all of us working together to discover how to best identify, diagnose and treat these disorders.

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