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Health & Parenting

Obese Kids, Weight Loss, and Eating Disorders

Problems like anorexia may go undiagnosed or be disregarded, case studies show
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Kids she's seen with these problems were constantly worried about what and how much they were eating, Sim said, and were socially withdrawn and depressed.

"We think obese kids are at risk for eating disorders because they are getting a lot of media messages that they are not healthy and that there is something wrong with them and they need to change their ways," Sim said. "And because they are teens, they do extreme things."

Weight loss is not that typical for adolescents, Sim said. "I think parents should be concerned with any weight loss," she said.

When parents see their children losing weight, they should ask about their eating habits and whether they are skipping meals or avoiding friends, as these may be signs of an eating disorder, Sim said.

Dr. Metee Comkornruecha, an adolescent medicine specialist at Miami Children's Hospital, said this is something doctors see a lot.

Genetics plays a role, but other psychological problems such as anxiety and depression also have a part, said Comkornruecha, who was not involved in the study.

"Whenever you see a kid losing weight, you have to see exactly how they are doing it," he said. "Weight loss at any cost is not a good thing. They have to be doing it in a healthy manner, which means eating the right foods and exercising."

At least 6 percent of teens suffer from eating disorders, while many more engage in unhealthy eating behaviors such as fasting, taking diet pills or laxatives, vomiting, and bingeing, according to background information included in the study.

The study highlighted many important messages, said Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center.

"First, obesity itself is a risk factor for eating disorders," Katz said. "This link is well established for binge-eating disorder, where obesity is potentially both cause and effect."

Eating disorders are about low self-esteem and self-efficacy, and the effort to exert control over food intake is a manifestation of other underlying issues. All of these matters are apt to be compounded by obesity, he said.

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