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Research claims almost a fifth of teens affected by eating disorders

11th June 2008 Print
We may be bombarded with statistics concerning childhood obesity, but the number of children suffering from eating disorders is also on the rise. According to government figures, the number of cases of children being admitted to hospital with eating disorders such as anorexia has increased by more than a third over the last 10 years, with 562 girls and 111 boys aged under 18 hospitalised in 2005/06.

And now, a study carried out by Finnish scientists claims 18 percent of school children admit to having eating problems – that's almost a fifth of all teenagers. However the report (ii), published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, claims that anxiety is more to blame than body image problems.

According to the report, which quizzed 372 students aged between 15 and 17, the teenagers who suffered from anxiety early during their adolescence were 20 times more likely to have eating disorders than those who had not experienced earlier psychological problems. And those who were dissatisfied with the way they looked only had recurring eating problems if they suffered anxiety earlier in their adolescence too.

The researchers also discovered that girls were twice as likely to report eating problems on one occasion than boys, and five times more likely to have ongoing eating problems.

Meanwhile 77 percent of those who admitted having persistent eating problems said they were unhappy with their weight and 46 percent were unhappy with their appearance, compared with eight and 18 percent of those who ate normally. Yet 63 percent of the teens who admitted having eating problems were of normal weight – and 37 percent were actually underweight.

The teenagers who had persistent eating problems were also more likely to report having health problems such as abdominal pain, dizziness, fatigue, headache and insomnia than those without eating problems – that is, 70 percent compared to 40 percent.

As a result, the report's authors claim schools should screen teenagers with ongoing or previous psychological problems, as well as those who complain about other health problems, for eating disorders.

Getting help, fast

For teachers and parents alike, one of the biggest difficulties in dealing with teenagers with eating disorders is getting the right help quickly enough.

The Eating Disorders Unit at Cygnet Hospital Ealing offers outpatient and inpatient treatment for a full range of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia for all patients aged 16 and over with a diagnosis of eating disorders.

The Cygnet Ealing's EDU offers one of the largest and most experienced multi-disciplinary team of staff, including specialist consultant psychiatrists and medical team, experienced consistent nursing team, psychodynamic family, occupational, art and complementary therapists, dieticians and psychologists.

New patients are seen within 24 hours of the initial contact, some even at weekends. Treatment packages include full medical monitoring and therapeutic group sessions alongside individual work as well as family therapy. Patients also receive help with body image and achieving a normal approach to food, including planning, shopping, preparation and eating meals.

For more information visit