Study: Eating disorders affect girls at greater rates than boys

Photo by Waleed Alzuhair via Flickr Creative Commons

A recent study of adolescent girls in the United Kingdom found two-thirds of 13 year olds are afraid of gaining too much weight compared to 40 percent of boys. In fact, the study found that one-quarter of all girls exhibited signs of an eating disorder by skipping meals, fasting or throwing away food to avoid getting fat.

It's one of the first studies of its kind outside of the U.S. to look at body image issues in adolescents. It was conducted by the Institute of Child Health in the U.K., in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The study also found that while just over 10 percent of girls were “extremely worried” about weight issues, only about 5 percent of boys had this “extreme” concern.

The researchers used data from a University of Bristol study “Children of the 90s” which had 7,000 participants aged 13-15.

On the plus side, less than half of 1 percent of teens said they would use laxatives or make themselves sick for weight loss.

The findings on binge eating proved interesting. While only 4.6 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys said they did binge eat, of those who did, half of them had gained significant weight by the time they were 15. The study found these teens had “twofold increased odds of being obese at the age of 15.”

“We have found that behaviors typical of an eating disorder are more common in early adolescence than previously thought, and not just in girls, but also in boys, and that they are associated with a range of social and psychological problems in the child,” according to a statement by the study's author Dr Nadia Micali, of England’s National Institute for Health Research.

“Most importantly, we found a connection with certain behaviors and higher weight two years later, which has important public health implications for the prevention of obesity,” according to Micali's statement.