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Teen eating disorders and associated mental health issues more common than known

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By Kathleen Blanchard

Eating disorders among adolescents are prevalent and accompany other mental disorders. An investigation found teen eating disorders that are also associated with other mental health issues are a major public health concern and more prevalent that previously known. 

Kathleen R. Merikangas, Ph.D and colleagues of the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md, examined lifetime and 12 month rates of anorexia nervosa , bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorders and subthreshold disordered eating, using data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) among 10,000 teens,  age 13 to 18.  

The study also looked at associated mental health problems that accompany eating disorders. In face-to-face interviews, teens were asked if they ever experienced eating disorders and specifically within the past 12 months. 

The research, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found the lifetime prevalence of eating disorders among adolescents was 0.9 percent or 170,000 for bulimia, 1.6 percent or 30,000 for binge eating and 0.3 percent – 55,000 – for anorexia, with the 12-month prevalence only slightly lower. 

Eating disorders were just as prevalent for adolescent boys, with the exception of what is termed “subthreshold” anorexia nervosa (SAN) that was more prevalent among teen girls.  

Many of the teens with eating disorder were also found to have at least one mental health disorder associated with social impairment – 55.2 percent with anorexia nervosa, 88 percent for bulimia, 83.5 percent for binge eating, 79.8 percent for subthreshold anorexia nervosa and 70.1 percent for subthreshold binge eating.  

In November 2009, finding published in the journal Pediatrics also found eating disorders in children and adolescents is on the rise, even for those under age 12. 

The analysis, conducted by Dr. David Rosen, a professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry at the University of Michigan, titled “Clinical Report – Identification and Management of Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents" found 0.5 percent of U.S. adolescent girls have anorexia nervosa and 1 to 2 percent met diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa, in a review of 200 studies. 

According to the new findings, adolescent eating disorders and associated mental health problems are more prevalent that recognized and represent a significant public health problem from comorbidities, social impairment and other mental health disorders including suicidality. Overall, the study showed 0.3% of teen boys and girls are affected by some sort of eating disorder who also sought some treatment, but not specific to eating or weight.  

Arch Gen Psychiatry: doi: 10.1001

Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in Adolescents

Sonja A. Swanson, ScM; Scott J. Crow, MD; Daniel Le Grange, PhD; Joel Swendsen, PhD; Kathleen R. Merikangas, PhD  

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