Risk Factors for Eating Disorders Vary by Gender

Rejecting media images, resilience to negative comments should be focus of prevention

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TUESDAY, June 3, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Boys and girls develop eating disorders for different reasons, so prevention strategies may need to vary by gender, according to a new report.

"Frequent dieting and trying to look like persons in the media were independent predictors of binge eating in females of all ages. In males, negative comments about weight by fathers was predictive of starting to binge at least weekly," wrote the authors, whose findings were published in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Prevention strategies, they said, should address those specific causes. For example, campaigns aimed at females should focus on media literacy and decreasing their susceptibility to media images; for males, efforts should focus on how to be more resilient to negative comments about weight.

In analyzing seven years of data on more than 12,500 children, the researchers found 10.3 percent of the girls and 3 percent of the boys started to binge eat or purge (vomit or use laxatives to control weight) at least once a week. Purging (5.3 percent) was slightly more common than binge eating (4.3 percent) in girls, while boys were almost three times as likely to binge eat than purge (2.1 percent versus 0.8 percent). Only a small proportion of boys and girls had both disorders.

The children were between age 9 and 15 at the start of the study in 1996.

While girls under age 14 whose mothers had a history eating disorders were almost three times as likely than other children to start purging at least once a week, "maternal history of an eating disorder was unrelated to risk of starting to binge eat or purge in older adolescent females," wrote the authors, who were led by Alison E. Field, of the Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders.

SOURCE: JAMA Archives journals, news release, June 2, 2008

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