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Study: Eating Disorders in Teens Are Common

Researchers Say Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Affect Boys and Girls

Eating Disorders: Boys vs. Girls

Among the surprises of the study, Merikangas tells WebMD, is ''we didn't have a big sex difference for anorexia." About 0.3% of both boys and girls were affected for lifetime prevalence.

For bulimia and binge eating, many more girls than boys were affected, they found.

Most with an eating disorder also had some other mental health problem, with 55% to 88% of those with an eating disorder also reporting such problems as anxiety, depression, or a behavioral disorder.

The most surprising, to Merikangas, was that ''one-third of those with bulimia had actually attempted suicide." About 15% of those with binge eating had and about 8% of those with anorexia had attempted suicide.

She found most of the teens sought treatment, but only a minority got treatment specifically for the eating disorder. It speaks to the stigma that still exists, she says.

"People still have a lot of shame about these conditions," she says.

Her advice for parents? Seek professional help sooner rather than later if they suspect eating disorders.

Eating Disorders: Seek Expert Help

The study results had some surprises for James Lock, MD, PhD, a professor of child psychiatry and pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who recently published a study about self-injurious behavior in teens with eating disorders.

"To me the lack of a sex difference in anorexia is really surprising," he says.

The research, he tells WebMD, ''points out how common, how severe these disorders are, not only in the area of the eating disorders but also the coexisting psychiatric illnesses, the higher amount of suicidal behavior and thought, and associated medical problems."

If parents suspect an eating disorder in their child, Lock tells them to seek an evaluation by their medical doctor, ''and if the symptoms persist by an expert in eating disorders."

"Don’t forget," he adds, ''that boys can have these problems.''

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