Chicago, Illinois (PressExposure) March 15, 2011 -- A government study has found that more than half a million teens have had an eating disorder, most commonly in the form of binge eating disorder and bulimia, and that most of the time these go untreated. How can we change this downward trend before it gets more out of control? Kimberly Dennis, M.D., medical director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, says it's critical for parents to talk to their kids about eating disorders as early as possible, and be open to the possibility their kids (or they) may have an unhealthy relationship with food.
"Parents don't want to believe their child might have a fatal disease, especially when in a lot of cases the teen is still doing well in school and even excelling in sports. And when they suspect a problem, parents a lot of times think it's 'just a phase' and are in denial it needs to be addressed," said Dr. Dennis. "In addition to the critical need for parents to talk to their kids, is the need for all 'first responders' in a teen's life to be aware of this growing problem. Pediatricians, primary care doctors, school nurses, teachers and coaches need to be educated as well, and not afraid to talk to teens about these issues; because early detection and treatment is critical to ensure a full and healthy life for these teens."
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Web site, "Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives."
"More programs need to be developed to go into schools to not only speak to the students, but also to the school nurses, teachers and coaches. And parents need to get involved and be educated on the seriousness of these diseases," said Dr. Dennis. She also encourages parents to listen to their gut and look for changes in behavior, including kids not eating with the family, frequent trips to the bathroom immediately after meals, changes in diet, and consumption of a large, unhealthy amount of food in one sitting.
"More of these studies are needed to get our heads around the scope of the problem. I believe that eating disorders are far more widespread than anyone realizes," said Dr. Dennis. "But recovery is possible when the right help is utilized and those most closely involved with these teens help them to get the help they so desperately need."