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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 01:32 GMT 02:32 UK
Eating disorders 'rife in girls'
Many girls exhibit "disturbed" eating behaviour
As many as one in four teenage girls may suffer from the symptoms of an eating disorder, research suggests.

In many girls, the problems appear to set in from a very early age.

We have been concerned that the lack of statistics kept on people with eating disorders is perhaps leading to the problem being under-estimated

Steve Bloomfield
Scientists from Canada quizzed 1,739 girls aged 12 to 18 about their eating habits.

They found that 27% had significant symptoms of eating disorders such as binge eating or purging.

The girls who took part in the study were asked to complete a standardised questionnaire on eating disorders.

The findings showed:

  • 23% said they were currently dieting
  • 15% reported binge eating associated with loss of control
  • 8.2% reported self-induced vomiting
  • 2.4% were using diet pills

The researchers also found that teenage girls are starting to engage in "severely disordered behaviours" at an earlier age.

Binge eating

They found that 12% of girls aged 12 to 14 reported binge eating episodes in the previous month. Almost 7% of this age group reported self-induced vomiting to lose weight.

The researchers, led by Dr Jennifer Jones of Princess Margaret Hospital, Toronto, said: "Our data indicate that an alarming number of Ontario schoolgirls report disordered attitudes about food and weight and unhealthy weight-loss behaviour.

"While we did not look at what the cause of these problem might be, we suspect that it is due to media influences on girls and the Western ideal of beauty which is equated to thinness.

"Girls are constantly exposed to images of very thin women, a body shape that is not normal or healthy, and strive to obtain this shape, which in most cases is not attainable."

Dr Jones' team recommends that girls aged 12-14 should be screened for eating disorders, with a particular focus on those who are overweight.

Dr Jones told BBC News Online that while most of the problematic behaviours uncovered in the study were not severe enough to be diagnosed as a clinical eating disorder they were still quite significant and placed the girls at risk for the development of conditions such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The behaviours were also associated with other health compromising behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drug use, and were also associated with depression and suicide risk.


Steve Bloomfield, of the UK Eating Disorders Association, said the association was liaising with hospitals to try to establish a database of people with eating disorders.

He told BBC News Online: "We have been concerned for some time that the lack of statistics kept on people with eating disorders is perhaps leading to the problem being under-estimated.

"Quite a few cases do not get picked up by GPs until they are relatively advanced, which makes treatment quite difficult.

"The faster somebody with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the better the chances that it will be successful."

The research is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

See also:

02 Jun 00 | Health
Eating disorders 'hit men harder'
13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Eating disorders
14 Apr 00 | Health
Gene theory on eating disorders
02 Sep 01 | Showbiz
Posh admits eating disorder
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