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Depression and Binge Eating Linked in Teen Girls

Parents Can Play a Role in Looking for Warning Signs
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 13, 2011 -- Depression and binge eating may go hand in hand among teenage girls.

New research shows that teen girls who are depressed are twice as likely to binge eat or overeat. The converse is also true: Teen girls who binge eat or overeat are two times more likely to become depressed than their counterparts who don’t show signs of problematic eating.

Binge eating is often accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame that may lead to depression. Many people who are depressed may turn to food for comfort.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Adolescent Health, may have some important implications for the treatment and prevention of depression and binge eating.

“If you notice that your daughter is down and depressed, talk to her and try to see if she is using food to feel better,” suggests researcher Alison E. Field, ScD. She is an associate in medicine at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

In the four-year study, girls who said they ate a very large amount of food in a short period of time at least once a month during the last year were considered overeaters. Binge eaters were girls who said they felt out of control while overeating at least once a month during the past year. Researchers also screened the teens for depression symptoms.

While not all of the teen girls in the study had full-blown eating disorders, binge eating and overeating may set the stage for developing one. “They are on their way, and it’s much better to try to stop early this early,” Field says.

Screen All Teen Girls for Binge Eating

Field says all adolescent girls should be screened for binge eating -- not just those who are depressed. “Asking just a couple of short questions such as, 'How often do you overeat,' and 'Do you ever feel like you can’t stop eating,' can help diagnose binge eating,” she says.

It can be hard to pick this up any other way, she says. “Most binge eaters are normal weight and you can’t tell anything is wrong by looking at them,” she says.  Also, it's not uncommon for teens to be secretive about binge eating.

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