Eating Disorders Alert

New thinking about the causes of anorexia and bulimia

To Your Health

Eating Disorders Alert

New thinking about anorexia and bulimia

-Susan Crandell

vegetarianTwo new studies focus on vulnerabilities for developing eating disorders, which strike about two percent of the population. One spotlights a new risk factor that may be beyond our control but merits further study. The other uncovers a behavior that can mask an eating disorder such as anorexia and bulimia.

British investigators who tested more than 200 anorexia patients in Norway, the U.K. and the U.S. found that 70 percent had damaged neurotransmitters in their brain and/or other changes in brain structure, suggesting that the brains of some fetuses are hard-wired for a vulnerability to the eating disorder.

Ian Frampton, a pediatric psychologist at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, a co-author of the study, believes these anomalies occur randomly to about one in 200 girls, and recommends screening children for eating-disorder risk factors at the age of eight.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Minnesota have found a connection between vegetarianism and bulimia or extreme dieting measures. Surveying 2,516 teens, they found that about 25 percent of the kids who claim to be vegetarians engage in bulimia or use diet pills, diuretics or laxatives. Researchers theorize that the teens may be using vegetarianism as an excuse to consume less food.

While researchers caution parents to be aware of this possibility if their teen suddenly becomes a vegetarian, they hasten to add that eschewing meat, chicken and fish can be a healthy way to eat. Indeed, the vegetarians studied ate more fruits and vegetables than their omnivorous counterparts, and other research published in this month’s edition of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association has shown vegetarians to have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.

If you suspect someone you know has a eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, you can find information and referrals to therapists, physicians and other health professors from a non-profit, the National Eating Disorders Association (or call the toll-free helpline, 800-931-2237).


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