Students find it hard to spot eating disorders

It can be difficult for students and young people to identify warning signs that may suggest eating disorders among their peers, new research has shown. Carried out at the University of Cincinnati, the study found individuals of this age often fail to pick up on indications that their friends may suffer from such problems in the not-so-distant future.

Ashlee Hoffman, a doctoral student in health promotion and education at the institute - founded in 1819 - presented her findings at the American Public Health Association's 139th annual meeting in Washington.

Ms Hoffman explained disordered eating involves people showing unhealthy habits over a period of time that can lead up to issues such as bulimia or anorexia, but which may not fit the medical diagnoses for the conditions.

The investigation revealed females are more likely to know of the warning signs and risk factors associated with the problem compared to their male counterparts.

Ms Hoffman said: "Some students mistakenly believe disordered eating is a vanity issue, when in fact, it is a compulsive, addictive behaviour that sufferers can use as a coping mechanism for stress."

Professor Andrew Hill, a Chartered Psychologist from the University of Leeds, commented: "Several of the attitudes and behaviours characteristic of disordered eating are commonplace in the lives of young women.

"So, being overly concerned with body weight, shape and eating, dieting, refusing to eat certain foods, alternating fasting with episodes of overeating and regularly exercising do not seem out of place. Binge eating and purging behaviours (such as vomiting) are more secretive and done out of view of friends.

"These feelings and actions are expressed by some men, which also makes them unremarkable. They are responses to the emphasis on appearance and body shape that is potent for young people as reflected in the media directed at them.

"While features of disordered eating are relatively common – UK research with students shows a third of women fear weight gain, and lose control over eating and up to 10 per cent binge and purge – cases of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are much rarer than Ednos (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified).

"Peers and professionals may find it harder to recognise Ednos, despite this being an eating disorder that requires clinical attention. In addition, distressed young people may show their unhappiness through alcohol misuse or self-harm, leading their disordered eating to go undetected."