Friday, June 06, 2008

SOTD*: Teens and "eating problems"

A new study out of Finland and reported in the Journal of Advanced Nursing asked 15- to 17-year-olds to report on whether they had eating "problems" along with a host of other health issues (insomnia, depression, etc.). About 18 percent of teens said they had some level of eating problems that persisted over two years. I'd love to know exactly what "eating problems" means in this context--it could be anything from picky eating to active restricting/purging.

Interestingly, and right in line with other new research, there was a strong correlation between eating "problems" and anxiety/depression:

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.

So far, so good. Researchers went on to look at height and weight records kept by school nurses and "found that even students with persistent eating problems were more likely to be normal weight than over or underweight."

From this they concluded, "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. 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."

I'm not so sure about that. First of all, these were self-reports, and we all know that even under the best circumstances, self-reports are notoriously unreliable. Second, teens with eating disorders tend to be ansognosic--they can't recognize that they have a problem.

It makes me wonder about the teens who said they did have problems, and what relationship those "problems" have with eating disorders.

It's quite a stretch to conclude from this that the majority of teenage eating issues last one to two years and then "clearly sort themselves out." Maybe the kids just got savvier about hiding e.d. behaviors and stopped self-reporting. Maybe the kinds of problems they were describing aren't related to true eating disorders in the first place. Maybe they had some help in resolving those eating problems that wasn't identified in the study.

I'm grateful to see more studies on eating disorders, but sometimes surprised by the level of analysis brought to the table (so to speak).

*SOTD = study of the day


Anonymous said...

Why does 'eating problem' only mean anorexia or purging to you? It could also be binge eating.

And, aren't some of the supposed studies on overweight people self reported on what they eat and how much or little they exercise? I don't understand why FA agrees with self reports when it favors their views, but disagrees with self reports if it isn't conveinient for the FA movement.

VickyAnn said...

Could it be a translation confusion? Or maybe the study was broader than eating disorders. Still it's interesting to read about different countries and these issues.

Vicky X