Eating disorders are usually associated with women and often develop during adolescence. However, a troubling new study found that children as young as 10 are making themselves vomit in an attempt to lose weight, and this is more common in boys.
A study of 16,000 school children in Taiwan, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, found that 13% had made themselves sick to try to control their weight. The numbers were actually higher among younger children. Among those ages 10-12, 16% reported vomiting and among 13-15 year-olds the rate was 15%. For 16-18-year-olds the number dropped to 8%. Perhaps most surprisingly, the 16% of boys said they'd made themselves sick, compared to 10% of girls.
Lead author Dr. Yling Mei Liou said:
"Our study, which was part of a wider research project on health and growth, focused on children who said that they had tried to lose weight in the last year ... It showed that self-induced vomiting was most prevalent in adolescents who had a sedentary lifestyle, slept less and ate unhealthily."
The researchers found that the children who reported using this technique shared several behaviors. 21% at fried food on a daily basis, 19% had dessert every day, 18% ate late-night snacks, and 18% used computers for more than two hours a day. Both obese and underweight children were more likely than normal weight children to try self-induced vomiting.
These statistics may only indicate that the children had tried throwing up to lose weight, not that it had become a habit. Though, the doctors pointed out that simply experimenting with this behavior is an early warning sign of eating disorders. Children seem to be developing a negative body image at an increasingly young age, and it's disturbing to learn that so many are trying dangerous methods to lose weight.
The researchers don't offer any theories on why the rate of self-induced vomiting was higher in males, but it does highlight the fact that young women aren't the only ones who suffer from these issues. Recent studies have found eating disorders are more prevalent among adolescent males than previously thought. We haven't heard much about boys this young trying activities associated with eating disorders. We're a bit concerned this group will now be given some horrible manorexia-type label (keep your eye out for "boylimia"), but hopefully the study will also prompt more research how to prevent this behavior.