A new study of nearly 12,000 9- and 10-year-olds, published this week in JAMA Pediatrics, provides key insights that help fill that gap. Researchers examined how age, sex, weight, and puberty stage were related to behaviors such as binge eating and vomiting to control weight.
“The first major takeaway is that these behaviors are more common than we’ve seen before, with a prevalence of up to 5% in some cases,” said the study’s lead author, Stuart Murray.
Contrary to cultural assumptions, the researchers found that boys and girls were equally likely to engage in disordered eating. The analysis also revealed that children with higher body mass indexes (BMIs), as well as those further along in puberty, faced an elevated risk.
The findings help outline the scope of the problem in this age group and point to biological risk factors that may ultimately lead to more targeted solutions, Murray added.
Children further along in puberty faced elevated odds of taking measures to prevent weight gain. The researchers also found that children with higher BMIs were more likely than lower-BMI children to engage in all disordered eating behaviors studied—binge eating, vomiting, and taking other actions to avoid gaining weight.
The study’s results can improve eating disorder prevention by highlighting who is most at risk, Murray said. For example, pediatricians and middle schools may choose to increase monitoring and screening of children with high BMIs and children who begin puberty before their peers.
Stuart Murray et. al, Prevalence of disordered eating and associations with sex, pubertal maturation, and weight in children in the US, JAMA Pediatrics, 1-Aug-2022, 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.2490