Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Disordered Eating in Girls: Weight Status Is Key

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Disordered Eating in Girls: Weight Status Is Key

Article excerpt

ORLANDO, FLA. -- Data from an ongoing longitudinal study suggest that both individual factors and family environment play an important role in the development of maladaptive eating, Leann L. Birch, Ph.D., said at an international conference sponsored by the Academy for Eating Disorders.

The National Institutes of Health-funded study was initiated in 1996 with 197 two-parent families of 5-year-old girls who were to be followed until the girls became 15 years old. The study was designed to assess risk factors for precursors of disordered eating in girls.

Weight status--both the child's and the mother's--is emerging as a particularly important factor, said Dr. Birch, distinguished professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University, University Park.

A child's overweight status appears to affect parental behavior in terms of food restrictions, development of dieting behaviors, and negative self-evaluations. Children who are overweight (above 85th percentile) in early childhood appear more likely to eat in the absence of hunger by the time they reach the age of 9 years.

Associated adverse effects of early overweight status in girls are elevated body dissatisfaction, elevated weight concerns, depression, and greater weight gain across middle childhood, at least in the middle-class white population included in this study.

Eating in the absence of hunger, which is more common in this population, appears to be a precursor for binge eating disorder, Dr. Birch noted at the conference, cosponsored by the University of New Mexico.

These findings are of particular concern in light of the obesity problem in the United States, she said.

When the study was initiated, the problem was just beginning to emerge as a major health issue. By the time the girls in the study reached 11 years old, more than 30% were above the 85th percentile for weight. …

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