Eating Disorders: Risk Varies By Age And Gender

Binge eating and purging can occur in boys and girls at a variety of
ages, but the risk factors for these behaviors largely vary by age
group and gender, according to an article released on June 02, 2008 in
the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine,
one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia
nervosa, are syndromes that involve compulsive eating or compulsive
undereating, and they generally are detrimental both mentally and
physically for the sufferers. One habit common in these disorders is
binge eating, when the patient eats uncontrollably for short bursts of
time; another such habit is purging, in which the patient vomits or
uses laxatives to limit the digestion of the food and thus control
his/her weight. Body image and control issues have been attributed as
causes for many documented cases of eating disorders but there has been
very little research in teens who are not actively in treatment
regarding the early development of these habits.

To help elucidate early causes of behaviors such as binge eating and
purging, Alison E. Field, Sc.D., of the Children’s Hospital Boston and
Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues analyzed data from the
ongoing Growing Up Today study taken between 1996 and 2003. In total
6,916 girls and 5,618 boys, aged 9 to 15 at the start of the study,
were questioned regarding various habits and influences. The study
examined various risk factors, including frequent dieting, attempts to
mimic persons in the media, negative weight comments from fathers or
from peers, and any maternal history of an eating disorder. It then
correlated these risk factors to the development of frequent binge
eating, purging, or both.

In the seven years of follow up, 10.3% of the girls and 3.0% of the
boys began binge eating or purging at least once a week. For girls,
purging was slightly more common, with 5.3% of the total population,
while binge eating was less common with 4.3%. In males, the opposite
was true, with 2.1% binge eating and 0.8% purging. A very small
proportion of boys and girls engaged in both behaviors.

For girls under 14 years old, a mother with a history of an eating
disorder was associated with a tripled risk to begin purging. However,
this association was not true when patients were older. “Maternal
history of an eating disorder was unrelated to risk of starting to
binge eat or purge in older adolescent females,” the authors say.
“Frequent dieting and trying to look like persons in the media were
independent predictors of binge eating in females of all ages. In
males, negative comments about weight by fathers was predictive of
starting to binge at least weekly.”

The authors conclude that different risk factors are important for
different groups of children. “Our results suggest that prevention of
disordered eating and eating
disorders may need to be age- and sex-specific. Efforts aimed at
females should contain media literacy and other approaches to make
young persons less susceptible to the media images they see,” the
authors conclude. “In addition, programs for females should focus more
on becoming more resilient to teasing from males, whereas programs for
males should focus on approaches to becoming more resilient to negative
comments about weight by fathers.”

Family, Peer, and Media Predictors of Becoming Eating

Alison E. Field; Kristin M. Javaras; Parul Aneja; Nicole Kitos; Carlos
A. Camargo Jr; C. Barr Taylor; Nan M. Laird
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162(6):574-579.
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Written by Anna Sophia McKenney

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