Nearly 1 in 5 teenagers admit eating problems, but anxiety is a bigger problem than appearance

June 4, 2008

Eighteen per cent of school children who took part in two health surveys carried out a year apart admitted they had eating problems, according to research published in the latest Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Thirteen per cent admitted eating problems in either the first or second survey and a further five per cent reported problems in both surveys.

Students who had ongoing eating problems were more likely to report multiple psychological problems and health complaints.

"For example we noticed that students who reported suffering from anxiety earlier in adolescence were 20 times more likely to have ongoing eating problems" says Lea Hautala from the Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic at the University of Turku, Finland.

"And teenagers who were dissatisfied with their appearance only had recurring eating problems if they also reported anxiety earlier in adolescence."

Researchers from the University surveyed 372 students aged between 15 and 17, repeating the survey after one year with the same pupils. 57 per cent were girls and 43 per cent were boys.

"A total of 66 students reported eating problems – 23 only reported problems in the first survey, 24 only reported them in the second survey and 19 reported them in both surveys" she adds.

"Students who had previous problems with anxiety were much more likely to suffer sustained eating problems, while those who didn't have previous psychological problems only experienced temporary eating problems and dissatisfaction with their appearance.

"We also found that girls were twice as likely to report eating problems on one occasion than boys and five times more likely to have ongoing problems."

When the researchers compared average results across the two surveys for students with persistent problems and no problems they discovered that:

-- 70% of students with persistent problems reported one or more health problems (abdominal pain, dizziness, fatigue, headache and insomnia), compared with only 40% of the students with no eating disorders.

-- 47% of students with persistent problems reported anxiety, compared with 12% of non reporters.

-- 31% reported depression, compared with 5% of non reporters.

-- 77% were unhappy with their weight and 46% with their appearance. This was much higher than the 8% and 18% reported by students without eating problems.

Despite this, when the researchers looked at the height and weight records kept by the school nurses, they found that even students with persistent eating problems were more likely to be normal weight than over or underweight.

63% of the students who reported eating problems were normal weight, compared with 79% of the students who didn't report any eating problems. And 37% were overweight and none were underweight, compared with 20% and 1% of the students without problems.

The researchers also found higher levels of psychological problems and health complaints in students who only reported eating problems in one of the two surveys.

"Our study backs up previous research that shows that eating problems often fluctuate in children of this age and in 50 to 60% of cases last about one to two years" says Lea Hautala. "However in ten per cent of cases their eating problems can persist into adulthood.

"Although almost a fifth of the students who took part in our study reported eating problems at some point, these problems clearly sorted themselves out in the majority of cases. However, one in twenty students continued to report problems.

"We believe that our results point to the need for schools to screen adolescents with psychological problems or multiple health complaints for eating problems, as these are the two key predictive factors that emerged from our study."

Source: Wiley

Explore further: Got a picky eater? How 'nature and nurture' may be influencing eating behavior in young children

Related Stories

Got a picky eater? How 'nature and nurture' may be influencing eating behavior in young children

October 3, 2017
For most preschool-age children, picky eating is just a normal part of growing up. But for others, behaviors such as insisting on only eating their favorite food item—think chicken nuggets at every meal—or refusing to ...

Scientists have found another reason for children to eat their green leafy vegetables

October 2, 2017
A study of 766 otherwise healthy adolescents showed that those who consumed the least vitamin K1- found in spinach, cabbage, iceberg lettuce and olive oil - were at 3.3 times greater risk for an unhealthy enlargement of the ...

Change behaviors by changing perception of normal

October 6, 2017
Whether it be for the environment, one's health or other important causes, convincing people to adopt new or uncommon behaviors can be difficult. One reason is that societal norms powerfully reinforce the status quo.

Second grade handwashing experiment leads to big decrease in bacteria, illness

October 5, 2017
How do you get kids to understand the importance of washing their hands? Make it an experiment, suggests one study in which second graders observed that washing or using sanitizer gel reduced the bacteria on their hands by ...

Is the '5-second rule' real?

October 3, 2017
Over the course of three decades, food scientist and professor at Clemson University Paul Dawson has studied how common food habits may increase the spread of bacteria in the human system.

Psychological impacts of natural disasters on youth

September 25, 2017
Children's mental state plays an important factor in their developmental growth. After recent storms devastated parts of the U.S. - Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Caribbean and Hurricane Maria ...

Recommended for you

Experts devise plan to slash unnecessary medical testing

October 17, 2017
Researchers at top hospitals in the U.S. and Canada have developed an ambitious plan to eliminate unnecessary medical testing, with the goal of reducing medical bills while improving patient outcomes, safety and satisfaction.

New study: Nearly half of US medical care comes from emergency rooms

October 17, 2017
Nearly half of all US medical care is delivered by emergency departments, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). And in recent years, the percentage of care delivered ...

No evidence that widely marketed technique to treat leaky bladder/prolapse works

October 16, 2017
There is no scientific evidence that a workout widely marketed to manage the symptoms of a leaky bladder and/or womb prolapse actually works, conclude experts in an editorial published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

Ten pence restaurant chain levy on sugary drinks linked to fall in sales

October 16, 2017
The introduction of a 10 pence levy on sugar sweetened drinks across the 'Jamie's Italian' chain of restaurants in the UK was associated with a relatively large fall in sales of these beverages of between 9 and 11 per cent, ...

New exercises help athletes manage dangerous breathing disorder

October 16, 2017
A novel set of breathing techniques developed at National Jewish Health help athletes overcome vocal cord dysfunction and improve performance during high-intensity exercise. Vocal cord dysfunction, now also referred to as ...

Learning and staying in shape key to longer lifespan, study finds

October 13, 2017
People who are overweight cut their life expectancy by two months for every extra kilogramme of weight they carry, research suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.