Adolescent girls in middle school and high school who have low self-esteem, depression, a perception of being overweight (even if that's not the case), and a host of other risk factors are susceptible to the eating disorder called purging.
Researchers at Wesleyan University recently examined data of 5,670 young girls in grades 7 through 12 from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health survey) collected between 1994 and 2008.
Purging as a Weight Loss Tool
While there are many research studies on the causes of eating disorders, this particular study focused on purging as a form of weight loss (either by self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse).
Purging is considered a symptom of both Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. According to NEDA, all eating disorders - as they are classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) - involve "extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues."
This particular study suggests that purging behaviors are receiving increased attention not only as a symptom of a broader eating disorder diagnosis, but also as a clinical condition on its own.
One more interesting note from the study: the risk factors of not eating with parents, losing a parent to death and childhood abuse or neglect - which are normally significant risk factors for eating disorders - were not necessarily prevalent with cases of purging.
New and Emerging Information
While most data indicates that young women are the demographic most susceptible to eating disorders, an Australian study challenges that belief.
The study authors state that the stigmatization of eating disorders afflicting white, young, affluent women, born in early literature like Hilde Bruch's The Golden Cage, originally published in 1978, set a harmful tone.
"Although it is now known with the ED field that this is not the case (the demographic), this early perspective has had lasting implications for the classification and wider mental health literacy of EDs, as well as for the development of resources to prevent, detect, and treat EDs."
In fact, the Australian study of South Australian women between the years of 1998 and 2008 goes on to show that purging behaviors significantly increased in women over the age of 45 during that 10-year period, but did not increase in younger age groups.
As the study succinctly points out, "a deficit of population-based research has meant that the exact demographic profile of disordered eating remains clear."
Learn more about the classic risk factors of eating disorders.
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