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NEDA comments on study of teen eating disorders

March 15, 2011
by News release
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Seattle— A newly released U.S. government study on teens and eating disorders (EDs) shines a much-needed light on the urgent necessity for early education and intervention says the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

Released March 7 in the Archives of General Psychiatry (a monthly professional medical journal published by the American Medical Association), the study shows that more than half a million U.S. teens have had an eating disorder but the majority have not sought treatment for the problem.

“The National Eating Disorders Association applauds the government for taking a first step in assessing the depth of this problem among our young people. These are potentially deadly illnesses with the highest death rate of any mental illness," said Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of NEDA.

"As a society, we must ask … When this many kids are clearly struggling with eating disorders, why are we not investing in more extensive research and early intervention now? What are we waiting for?” The largest and most comprehensive analysis of EDs in the U.S. to date, the study included nationally representative data on 10,123 teens aged 13 to 18. Binge-eating was the most common disorder, affecting more than 1.6 percent of the teens studied; 0.9 percent suffer bulimia; and 0.3 percent anorexia. Overall, 3 percent had a lifetime prevalence of one of the disorders.

Another 3 percent experienced troubling symptoms of disordered eating, but not full-fledged EDs. Ethnic minorities were more likely to report binge-eating disorder and white teens experience more anorexia than ethnic groups.

Additionally, more than half of the affected teens suffer depression, anxiety, social phobia or some other mental disorder, with a notable percent reporting suicidal thoughts or attempts—and all those affected are more likely to have problems with substance abuse.

Continued Grefe, “As noted by the researchers, we believe the actual occurrence in the teen population is even higher and, across all demographics, it seems to be epidemic.”

Among all Age Groups and Demographics: As many as 10 million females and 1 million males in the U.S. battle anorexia or bulimia. And as many as 13 million more struggle with binge eating disorder. Millions practice disordered eating due to an obsession with dieting.

“As parents,” says Grefe, “we need to be aware of societal influences—like media and advertising—which promote unrealistic ‘ideal’ body images. We need to start a dialogue and teach our children to focus on health, not the size of our hips, and to love and take care of the body they’re in. And we need to be able to recognize the symptoms, know where to go for help and to have increased access to medical treatment.” NEDA offers the following 10 signs that could indicate an eating disorder:

  1. Drastic weight loss.
  2. Preoccupation with counting calories.
  3. The need to weigh yourself several times a day.
  4. Excessive exercise.
  5. Binge eating or purging.
  6. Food rituals, like taking tiny bites, skipping food groups or re-arranging food on the plate.
  7. Avoiding meals or only wanting to eat alone.
  8. Taking laxatives or diuretics.
  9. Smoking to curb appetite.
  10. Persistent view of yourself as fat that worsens despite weight loss.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), headquartered in Seattle, Wash., is the leading U.S. non-profit organization supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. NEDA serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care.

Each year, NEDA helps millions of people across the country find information and appropriate treatment resources through its toll-free, live helpline, its many outreach programs and website. NEDA advocates for advancements in the field and envisions a world without eating disorders. For more information, visit For treatment referrals, visit

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