Adolescence is a time of life where young people are encountering many types of changes in their lives. Besides physical maturation, adolescents are also pushing the limits of independence and leaving elementary school for middle school, where increased expectations and responsibilities often results in new stress.
Eating disorders, though possible at any age or stage in life, often begin during adolescence. The physical and mental transition to adulthood can be tumultuous, and while there is a mix of biological and environmental components to eating disorders, adolescents seem to be at a prime time in life for developing disordered eating behaviors.
A study published online in Archives of General Psychiatry, a JAMA/Archives journal, examines the prevalence of eating disorders from a population-based study, looking at comorbidity with other mental disorders, illnesses and rates of impairment.
The study, led by Sonja A. Swanson, ScM, of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and colleagues, gathered data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), which provided a nationally representative sample of adolescents. The researchers wanted to look at lifetime and past-year prevalence of various eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and subthreshold eating disorders.
The study would examine sociodemographic variables and clinical correlates with patterns of comorbidity of other mental disorders. The researchers would also determine the level of role impairment and evidence of suicidal symptoms. In order to gather this information from the adolescents, the researchers interviewed 10,123 participants, each aged between 13 and 18 years.
The analysis revealed that when asked about lifetime presence of eating disorders, anorexia was present at a rate of 0.3 percent, bulimia at a rate of 0.9 percent, binge eating disorder at a rate of 1.6 percent, subthreshold anorexia at a rate of 0.8 percent, and subthreshold binge eating disorder at a rate of 2.5 percent. The 12-month rates for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, subthreshold binge eating disorder were 0.2 percent, 0.6 percent, 0.9 percent, and 1.1 percent, respectively.
The analysis showed that there was not a significant gender difference when it came to anorexia and subthreshold binge eating disorder. However, bulimia, binge eating disorder and subthreshold anorexia were more prevalent in girls.
Over half of the adolescents with each type of eating disorder also met criteria for at least one other DSM-IV disorder. There were strong associations with psychiatric disorders, a high level of social impairment, and suicide.
Many of the adolescents had sought some type of treatment, but few had received treatment specifically designed to aid in recovery from an eating disorder.
The study provides information on the prevalence of eating disorders among adolescents. With so few adolescents receiving treatment for eating disorders, the study will be useful in raising awareness about early detection and appropriate treatment options.