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Increase Seen in Eating Disorders, Especially Pica

It is very difficult to get an accurate understanding of the number of individuals who suffer from eating disorders. Many who have an eating disorder hide their condition for years, with some delaying treatment even after admitting to themselves that there is a problem. Some never receive treatment.

A report issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville Maryland provides information on trends in hospitalizations for eating disorders. The findings can be found in the September 2011 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project Statistical Brief #120.

The report indicates that there was an overall increase in hospitalizations for eating disorders from 1999 to 2009, with a particularly significant increase in hospitalizations for pica. Pica is an eating disorder characterized by the consumption of non-food substances such as paper, dirt, feces and coal. It is often exhibited in women and children who have autism.

The report, authored by Yafu Zhao, MS, and William Encinosa, PhD, utilized hospitalization data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project obtained from 1999 to 2000 and again from 2005 to 2009. The Project compiles longitudinal healthcare data from 44 data organizations, including state, federal and private organizations.

The analysis reveals a 13 percent increase in hospitalizations for anorexia over 10 years, and an increase of 93 percent for pica. Hospitalizations also rose by 56 percent for unspecified eating disorders, and bulimia hospitalizations were up by 14 percent. Psychogenic vomiting hospitalizations rose over the same period by 18 percent.

Eating Disorders on the Rise Among Men, Children and Older Women

Between 2008 and 2009, women represented 88 percent of hospitalized cases of eating disorders. The number of men admitted, however, increased substantially, with a 53 percent jump in hospitalizations over 10 years. By contrast, there was a 21 percent increase in female hospitalizations.

The number of children admitted for eating disorders has increased significantly in recent years. The report indicated that hospitalizations for children under the age of 12 rose by 72 percent. In addition, experts are also seeing a major increase in eating disorders among older adults, with hospitalizations for adults between the ages of 45 and 65 increasing by 88 percent.

Those hospitalized for eating disorders are likely to have another primary or secondary diagnosis. In those with a primary diagnosis of an eating disorder, healthcare providers often find cardiac problems and nutritional deficiencies.

Those with private insurance were the patients most likely to be hospitalized. Medicare and Medicaid were also associated with increased hospitalizations at a rate of 34 and 26 percent, respectively.

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