One of the most comprehensive studies of eating disorders among teens has found that such disorders are not only more common than previously thought, but are also closely associated with other psychiatric disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s cross-sectional study of over 10,000 people of both genders between the ages of 13 and 18, over half a million of the teens suffered from clinically-significant eating disorders.
The National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement found that about 0.3 percent of the teens had anorexia nervosa, another 0.9 percent suffered from bulimia, and approximately 1.6 percent reported having binge eating disorder. Although the rates of anorexia nervosa were the same for both sexes, far more girls than boys reported bulimia and binge eating occurrences.
Senior researcher Kathleen Merikangas, PhD, notes that an even larger number of the teens in the study showed signs of “subthreshold” eating disorders. These individuals evinced behaviors associated with a clinical eating disorder, but “didn’t reach the threshold of either severity, duration, or frequency that we have somewhat arbitrarily applied” to definitions of eating disorders, Merikangas said.
Over half of affected teens also reported difficulties with anxiety, behavioral disorders, or other forms of social impairment, leading researchers to speculate that the comorbidity between psychological disorders might be stronger than suspected.