Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Monday, 1 August 2005 09:58 UK

Lovesick teens turn to junk food

Chocolate is a favoured comfort-food for the lovelorn

A third of young people admit they turn to food when they are unhappy about their love lives, a survey has shown.

The Priory Group, which treats people with eating disorders, questioned 1,000 people, and found those aged 15 to 24 had the worst relation with food.

Just over 60% said they comfort eat with chocolate and 43% with fast food, which experts say raises concerns over their general eating habits.

Specialists warn a reliance on comfort foods can lead to eating disorders.

Eating disorders can develop when someone uses food to try and control their feelings, which can be physically and mentally damaging
Susan Ringwood, Eating Disorders Association

Dr Peter Rowan, a consultant psychiatrist with the Priory Group, said: "These young adults, who will be raising the next generation, will pass their attitudes to food on to their children.

"If current trends are continued, eating behaviour will become progressively more detached from food and health needs, and the number of young people with eating disorders will continue to rise."

Almost 1.1 million Britons have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but the number of sufferers is thought to be much higher.

'Hungry for love'

In total, the Priory Group estimates around 11m adults in the UK have issues or problems with food.

It found 52% of adults admit to gorging on chocolate when they feel down, and another 25% turn to junk food.

However, 63% said they felt less attractive when they felt overweight, and 74% felt better about themselves when they ate healthily.

Dr Rowan said: "These people are desperate to fill the void created by loneliness, low self esteem, depression and insecurity.

"You could describe this as 'hungry for love'.

"Sadly this form of comfort eating is bad for them, leading to a range of physical illnesses associated with obesity and with the development of eating disorders, which can be a severe form of mental illness."

He added: "We learn from infancy and the gifts of our mothers, to associate food with love.

"This lesson is not modified with time and the gift of food is used to reward us and for us to reward others."

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the Eating Disorders Association, said: "Eating disorders can develop when someone uses food to try and control their feelings, which can be physically and mentally damaging.

"The best way to make a full recovery is to seek help as soon as a problem develops."

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