Three in 10 girls under the age of 18 suffer from an eating disorder, a new large-scale study has found.
The same study has revealed that one in six boys face an eating disorder, while one in five (22%) of children overall suffer from conditions such as anorexia, bulimia and other extreme dieting behaviour.
Scientists looked at data from 32 studies involving more than 63,000 participants aged between seven and 18 in 16 different countries, including the UK.
The study was published in the journal Jama Pediatrics and study author Dr Jose Francisco Lopez-Gil, of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain, said that eating disorders are among “the most life-threatening psychiatric problems”.
“People with these conditions die 10 to 20 years younger than the general population,” he said.
He added that identifying the magnitude of eating disorders is “crucial for planning and executing actions aimed at preventing, detecting and dealing with them”.
The first of its kind study found that a total of 14,856 of 63,181 children and adolescents showed disordered eating, with 30% of girls suffering from an eating disorder and 17% of boys.
“These findings can inform intervention priorities for disordered eating as a global health initiative to prevent possible health problems among young people, particularly in girls and young people with higher BMI,” Dr Lopez-Gil said.
“Our findings indicate more than one in five children and adolescents presented with disordered eating. Disordered eating in childhood/adolescence may predict outcomes associated with eating disorders in early adulthood.
"For this reason, this high proportion found is worrisome and calls for urgent action to try to address this situation.”
According to eating disorder charity Beat, around 1.25 million Brits have an eating disorder. This includes 4,689 girls aged five to 10 and 126,824 girls and adult females aged between 11 and 34 who are cited as having either anorexia or bulimia.
Interestingly, the charity found that a higher percentage of young boys aged five to 10 (than girls) have an eating disorder, totalling 12,296. However, fewer boys and adult males aged between 11 and 34 had anorexia or bulimia (compared to females in the same age group) with their total figure coming to 43,569.
“The behaviours related to eating disorders may lead to greater risk or damage to health, significant distress or significant impairment of functioning,” Dr Lopez-Gil added.
According to the NHS, an eating disorder is classified as a mental health condition where you “use the control of food to cope with feelings and other situations”.
Unhealthy behaviours relating to an eating disorder can involve eating too much, too little or worrying about the size and shape of your body.
The health service adds that eating disorders mostly affect teenagers between 13 and 17 years old, but most people can recover with treatment.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, the NHS recommends contacting your GP to make an appointment or calling Beat on its adult helpline 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.
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