What Causes An 11-Year-Old Girl To Develop An Eating Disorder?

Academic studies can be fascinating… and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.

The Background

It was estimated that the number of hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006. While this demographic accounts for less than 5 percent of eating disorder cases overall, the uptick in childhood eating disorders, particularly among young girls, is cause for concern for both parents and researchers searching for what might be driving kids to such unhealthy extremes. Past research has linked high BMI with disordered eating behaviors, like the use of diet pills or laxatives, fasting, over-exercising and vomiting. Teasing and bullying have also been shown to contribute to eating disorders in young girls. Then, of course, there’s the abundant messaging in pop culture that tells women of all ages that they must be thin.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Houston looked at how all of these variables interact with one another and how they could drive overweight young girls to exhibit disordered eating behaviors.

The Setup

Researchers surveyed 135 girls who were all about 11 years old (give or take a year) and had a high percentage of body fat. Most of them — 85 percent — were classified as obese, while 19 percent were considered overweight. Among the sample, 78 percent self-identified as Hispanic and 16 percent as African American (the remaining 6 percent didn’t specify).

The girls in the sample first completed surveys that measured their desire to be thinner, as well as how much weight-related teasing they got from peers in the past year. The survey also measured how often the girls engaged in disordered eating behaviors, like —> Read More