Eating disorders pose serious hazards to adolescents and young adults and are often hidden from family, friends and even doctors, sometimes until the disorders cause lasting health damage and have become highly resistant to treatment.
According to the Family Institute at Northwestern University, nearly 3 percent of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 have eating disorders. Boys as well as girls may be affected. Even when the disorder does not reach the level of a clinical diagnosis, some studies suggest that as many as half of teenage girls and 30 percent of boys have seriously distorted eating habits that can adversely affect them physically, academically, psychologically and socially.
Eating disorders can ultimately be fatal, said Dr. Laurie Hornberger, a specialist in adolescent medicine at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. “People with eating disorders can die of medical complications, but they may be even more likely to die of suicide. They become tired of having their lives controlled by eating and food issues.”
The problem is especially common among, though not limited to, gymnasts, dancers, models, wrestlers and other athletes, who often struggle to maintain ultra-slim bodies or maintain restrictive weight limits. The transgender population is also at higher risk for eating disorders.