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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 17:20 EDT

Half Million US Teens Suffer From Eating Disorders

March 8, 2011

Half a million US teens between the ages of 13 and 18 suffer from some form of eating disorder but few have sought treatment for the problem, government research shows.

Binge-eating disorder was the most common, affecting more than 1.5 percent of kids studied. Just under 1 percent had experienced bulimia, and 0.3 percent had anorexia, AP is reporting.

The study, released online Monday in Archives of General Psychiatry, claims that overall, 3 percent of US teens had a lifetime prevalence of one of the disorders. Another 3 percent of kids questioned had troubling symptoms but not full-fledged eating disorders. These rates are slightly higher than in other studies.

The study is based on kids and parents interviewed over two years ending in 2004. But coauthor and researcher Kathleen Merikangas of the National Institute of Mental Health says similar rates likely exist today.

Underscoring the seriousness of eating disorders, more than half the affected teens had depression, anxiety or some other mental disorder. Suicidal thoughts or attempts were also reported by a large percentage of the teens in the study. Although the lifetime prevalence estimates of eating disorders from these studies of adults are relatively low, their severity and dramatic effects have been repeatedly demonstrated.

Although the majority of adolescents with an eating disorder sought some form of treatment, only a minority received treatment specifically for their eating or weight problems.

“”¦ this study provides key information concerning the epidemiology of eating disorders in the US adolescent population. The prevalence of these disorders is higher than previously expected in this age range, and the patterns of comorbidity, role impairment, and suicidality indicate that eating disorders represent a major public health concern.”

“Finally, these findings support the nosological distinction [classification of diseases] between the major subtypes of eating disorders as well as the importance of inclusion of the full spectrum of eating behaviors in estimating the magnitude and correlates of eating disorders in the US population,” claims Sonja A. Swanson, Sc.M., of the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md.

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