SDSU Finds Negligible Differences by Gender in Eating Disorders Among Kids

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Young girls and boys do not develop eating disorders at significantly different rates, according to a study published today by San Diego State University researchers. 

Most previous research has found that eating disorders are more prevalent among women, who are as much as three times more likely than men to have an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. SDSU researchers found a dearth of research on general eating disorder rates among young children, let alone data parsed by gender or sex. Their study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, focused on a group of 4,500 children ages 9 and 10. They found that 1.4 percent of children in that age group have an eating disorder diagnosis, with little difference in the rates between girls and boys. 

The researchers used data from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development study by the NIMH.

``Our findings suggest that, given the lack of gender differences among 9- to 10-year old children with eating disorders, there may be added social pressures, or hormonal differences that occur during or post puberty among girls that increase the risk of developing eating disorders,'' said Kaitlin Rozzell, a master's student in SDSU's Department of Psychology and the lead author of the study. 

The observed rate among the group of children is roughly one-tenth of the national rate in the U.S., leading the research team to suggest that gender differences in eating disorder rates are tied to experiences during adolescence and early adulthood.

``The results don't inform treatment directly, but do provide a baseline estimate of how common eating disorders are among children, which can aid future research in better understanding the course of the illness,'' study co-author and associate psychology professor Aaron Blashill said. 

``This, subsequently may aid prevention and treatment approaches by having more information on the most critical periods to intervene.''

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