Eating disorders in the teenage and young adult populations can have devastating effects, especially for girls. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, about 1 in 10 young women in the United States suffers from an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are the most common forms of eating disorders seen in young women. Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia are also found in the young male population, but to a lesser extent.
While the exact cause of eating disorders are largely unknown, there are certain factors that point to increased risk of developing an eating disorder among teenagers. Those factors include societal pressures where premiums are placed on having the ideal body. Even if a teenager has a normal and healthy weight, there can be perceptions they are overweight. Eating disorders can also develop because of self-esteem issues.
Those who participate in sports like wrestling and running where maintaining an ideal weight is emphasized, teenagers can run an increased risk of developing eating disorders. Another behavioral factors and traits such as perfectionism, anxiety or rigidity can also play a role in the development of eating disorders for young people. Poor nutrition, stress and tension and following food fads also need to be weighed into consideration.
As outlined by the Mayo Clinic, symptoms that may be seen in young people with eating disorders include the following:
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Irregularities in the menstrual cycle (for girls)
In regards to long-terms effects, young people suffering from eating disorders may also develop more serious and even life-threatening conditions such as muscle wasting and bone loss. Tooth decay and thinning hair is also seen with chronic eating disorders in young people. Heart and digestive problems can occur as well as delayed growth and development. Depression can also be an issue and with depressive thoughts can lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior.
Treatment for eating disorders in the teenage demographic requires a multidimensional approach. The use of individual and family therapy along with medications and nutritional guidance is seen as being the most effective. What also needs to be addressed are any co-existing issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.