At what age does a person start to think about their appearance in terms of weight, size and shape? At what age does an overeating habit begin? There is a body of research which says that it starts much earlier than most people would imagine. A new study shows that kids just entering their teens are already exhibiting signs of disordered eating.
The study was spearheaded by Dr. Nadia Micali of the University College London Institute of Child Health. Dr. Micali and her team looked at data from a long-term British study involving children and parents. The 7,082 13-year-olds studied revealed eating habits, social and extracurricular information, academic and family life information. Parents were asked if their children exhibited any amplified worries over body shape or weight, food restriction or food binging. Micali was looking for predictors of the teens becoming overweight by age 15.
Study Findings On Teen Eating Habits And Body Changes, Image
She found that kids who were binge eating at age 13 showed an average increase of 24 percent in body mass index (BMI) by the time they turned 15. BMI is a number that reflects a person’s body weight in relation to their height. It is not a foolproof indicator of fitness or obesity, but it has proven to be a useful tool for the average person. Young adolescents with an early habit of overeating were markedly heavier within two years.
Micali found that 63 percent of 13 year old females and 39 percent of 13 year old males were already worrying about weight gain or becoming fat. For 11 percent of females this concern was severe. Overall, the boys and girls who controlled their weight by food or calorie restriction showed a lower BMI by the time they reached 15 years of age.
Disordered Eating Stats – Boys vs. Girls
Females who tried to control their weight through caloric restriction tended to stay away from high fat foods. Males, on the other hand, tended to increase their level of exercise in order to lose unwanted weight. The young males who did use caloric restriction to manage weight experienced a greater disruption to mental health compared to caloric-restricting females.
Micali was looking for something that could predict adolescent obesity, and she did. She also found an indicator of future eating disorder. The worrisome note from the study is that a significant number of young adolescents are showing clear signs of disordered eating.
Those youngsters who were overeating experienced negative repercussions, especially behavioral problems and emotional upset. But adolescents who were cutting back on food intake also experienced emotional difficulty, especially the boys.
Parents Should Not Ignore Over or Under-Eating In Girls Or Boys
Which brings up another important bit of information from this study: boys struggle with eating disorders. It is not a female-only problem. Parents should not ignore over- or under-eating.
Parents who keep an eye on irregular eating habits could help reduce disordered eating patterns in their child later on. Moms and dads who talk with their kids about body image could also head off unhealthy dieting and wrong expectations or a potential full-blown eating disorder.
Here in the US an adult with a BMI of 25-29.9 is considered overweight and an adult BMI of 30 or more is considered obese. Obesity is generally being overweight by at least 20 percent. Thirty years ago 14 percent of Americans were obese. By 2000 more than 30 percent of Americans were obese. If the UK study tells us anything, this problem starts at a very young age.