HEALTH MATTERS: Helping teenagers with eating disorders

October 2004 
Volume 34  Number 10
Pages 24 - 25
  PDF Version Available!


  • How anorexia and bulimia compare

  • Distorted body image

  • How to help



  • Figure. No caption a...

    JUST OPEN THE LATEST ISSUE of a teen or women's magazine and you're likely to get this message: Keep losing weight because you can't be thin enough. Like never before, many adolescents, especially girls, are reacting to this message by developing life-threatening eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. (Binge-eating disorder, a similar problem, is beyond the scope of this article.)

    Among adolescent girls, 1% to 3% have bulimia and 1% have anorexia. Only 5% to 15% of all people with anorexia or bulimia are male.

    Six percent of people with anorexia and 1% of people with bulimia will die of their diseases. Causes of death associated with these disorders are electrolyte imbalances, cardiac arrest, and suicide.

    Because distorted self-image, shame, and denial are characteristics of these disorders, patients rarely seek help on their own. You may be the first health care professional to recognize the problem and intervene. Here, we'll discuss what to look for and how to respond.

    How anorexia and bulimia compare

    Anorexia is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. In contrast, the hallmark of bulimia is a secretive cycle of binge eating followed by purging through self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse. Someone with either disorder may exercise obsessively to burn off “excessive” calories and fat.

    Figure. No caption available. Considered treatable medical illnesses, anorexia and bulimia have various possible causes, including genetic factors. People prone to perfectionism and those with low self-esteem may use food to gain a sense of control over their lives. Eating disorders often accompany other ...

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