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Obese Kids, Weight Loss, and Eating Disorders

Problems like anorexia may go undiagnosed or be disregarded, case studies show

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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.

"Second, while weight loss in the context of obesity may appear beneficial, there is a point at which the methods used -- or the extremes reached -- may indicate an eating disorder," Katz said.

"Effective treatment of obesity cannot simply be about weight loss -- it must be about the pursuit of health," Katz said. "An emphasis on healthful behaviors is a tonic against both obesity and eating disorders. By placing an emphasis on diet and activity patterns for health and by focusing on strategies that are family based, we can address risk factors for both eating disorders and obesity."

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