Young teens who binge eat and those who are fearful of weight gain may be more likely to become overweight later in adolescence, according to a new study from the United Kingdom.
Researchers looked for early symptoms of eating disorders among more than 7,000 13-year-olds and found certain symptoms predicted which children would have weight problems at age 15.
Girls who engaged in binge eating at 13 tended to have a higher body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, two years later.
Both boys and girls who severely restricted their eating at 13 had lower BMIs when they were two years older.
"The most important message is that even at this young age, a high percentage of boys and girls have worrying eating disorders symptoms," said the lead researcher from the Institute of Child Health at University College London.
The team gathered data from an ongoing UK trial that includes parents and kids. From surveys filled out by parents, the researchers collected information on eating disorder symptoms among 7,082 teens at age 13, such as binging, excessive concerns over body weight or shape and behaviors like restricting food intake.
The researchers also looked at links between these symptoms and other aspects of the teens' social, academic, extracurricular and family lives.
Overall, 63 percent of girls and 39 percent of boys were afraid of gaining weight or getting fat. Extreme levels of fear of weight gain or concerns about body shape or weight were seen among 11 percent of girls.
Girls avoided fatty foods more often than boys, while boys were more likely to do intense exercise for weight loss.
Even at age 13, overeating and binging was strongly linked to negative impacts on the child's life and burden to family among both boys and girls.
Binging and overeating were especially linked to emotional and behavioral troubles for both genders. Cutting back on food was linked to mental health disturbances among boys more than girls.
Some experts say these findings suggest a lack of regular eating patterns could be a target for intervention and prevention of obesity in youth. The take-home message for parents: eating disorders during the teen years offer a window into the risk of obesity later.
Source: Journal of Adolescent Health, online December 18, 2013.
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