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The Onset and Persistence of Eating Disorder Symptoms: What Places Children and Adolescents at Risk and How Can We Promote Resilience?

The Onset and Persistence of Eating Disorder Symptoms: What Places Children and Adolescents at Risk and How Can We Promote Resilience?

Eating disorders affect up to 10% of adolescent women and a smaller proportion of adolescent men. They are associated with considerable psychosocial and physiological morbidity and carry the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, equal with substance misuse. As such, eating disorders are also a substantial burden on health services. Despite this, detailed data regarding the onset and persistence of eating disorders in the community are rare. This makes it difficult to develop and effectively implement prevention and early intervention programmes for eating pathology. This presentation summarises new data in this area, with reference to two prospective cohort studies in Western Australia. 

The first study, the Childhood Growth and Development Study, followed 300 participants from middle childhood to early adolescence. Eating disorder symptoms were assessed annually. The second study, the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study, followed 1600 participants from pre-birth to young adulthood. Eating disorder symptoms were assessed at 14, 17 and 20 years. Collectively, results suggest that low self-esteem, perceived pressure to be thin, being perceived as overweight by one’s parent, and difficulties with negative affect may predict eating disorder onset. In contrast, impulsive behaviours (e.g., alcohol misuse, truancy, stealing) may predict eating disorder persistence after initial symptom development.

Adolescents who experience persistence eating disorder symptoms also appear to be at risk for persistent and significant difficulties in other areas, particularly depression. These results are interpreted in the context of a framework that attends to risk and protective factors, with the view to identifying ways to minimise risk and promote resilience in childhood and adolescence.

Speakers: Karina Allen
Conference: AACBT

AACBT 2014

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