Predicting Eating Disorders in Children

Eating Disorder in KidsA new study can help predict eating disorders in girls as young as 11.Scientists may be able to predict eating disorders in girls as young as 11. A new study by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre has found that young girls eating habits seemed to predict their likelihood of developing an eating disorder later in life.

The study, which was presented at the International Conference on Eating Disorders, analysed the link between the percentage of carbohydrate, fat and protein young girls consumed and their later risk of developing anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorders.

“Eating disorders are notoriously difficult to treat, so prevention is critical,” said Laurie Dunham, registered dietician at Cincinnati Children’s. “By assessing protein and fat consumption as early as age 9, we can detect which girls may go on to develop eating disorders and step in to help before things get out of control.”

Researchers found that the amount of fat and carbohydrates consumed by girls around age 11 appears to be linked to later body image problems by age 14. In 15 year-old girls, those that ate a low amount of fat and more carbohydrates were more likely to develop bad eating habits by age 19. The results of the study also showed that perfectionists were at greater risk of developing an eating disorder.

“We know that perfectionists are at high risk for eating disorders,” said Abbigail Tissot, PhD, associate director of the Division of Behavioral Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study. “They are so committed to perfectly conforming to an unhealthy and extreme idea of beauty, that they get carried away. Unfortunately, these girls who are committed to achieving thinness – no matter what it takes – are actually placing themselves at higher risk for being overweight or obese later in life.”

This type of study provides a great deal of insight into the early warning signs of eating disorders. It could even form the basis for an eating disorder early warning system. Unfortunately, it will take time to run and compile other similar studies to this one because of the amount of time needed to collect data.

“The study is rare in that it’s based on long-term observation of girls during their transition from pre-puberty through adolescence and into early adulthood,” added Tissot. “This study tells us at what age we should be watching for these eating behaviours, giving parents and physicians useful tools for detecting girls at risk for future eating disorder symptoms.”

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