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Half Million American Teens Have an Eating Disorder

Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health have just released the data on the largest and most representative study ever completed on teen eating disorder prevalence. What they found? – More than half a million American teens suffer from an eating disorder and more than half of these kids also live at least one other mental illness.

Previous estimates of eating disorder prevalence rates have made use of small sample sized studies, something researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health looked to change with a study that involved data from a representative sample of more than 10 000 teens from across the country.  From this large sample of data, the research team was able to put together a more accurate set of prevalence rates for various eating disorders afflicting teens.

The Results:

  • 3% of teens interviewed had experienced an eating disorder within their lifetime. 1.6% had experienced binge eating disorder, 0.9% had experienced bulimia and 0.3% had experienced anorexia. (both teen males and teen females were equally likely to suffer from anorexia)
  • Another 3% of teens did not yet meet the criteria for an eating disorder but did have some eating disorder symptoms of concern.
  • More than 50% of teens who reported a lifetime experience with an eating disorder and also experienced depression, anxiety or another mental health disorder - 55.2% of teens with anorexia reported having at least one other DSM-IV classified mental illness and 88% of those with bulimia reported the same
  • 53% of teens with bulimia reported thinking about suicide
  • Most teens with an eating disorder had received some form of mental health care at some point in life, but only a small percentage had received treatment specifically for an eating disorder.

The full research findings can be read in this month’s edition of The Archives of General Psychiatry

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