A new meta-analysis suggests more than 20% of the world's children are suffering from an eating disorder.
Published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from Spain and Ecuador examined 32 studies that included 63,181 people and found a staggering 22% of children ages 7-18 years old showed signs of disordered eating, with girls more affected than boys.
According to the analysis, 30% of girls and 17% of boys have some type of eating disorder.
The Daily Mail reported 14 million people suffered from eating disorders in 2019, including nearly 3 million children and adolescents.
The researchers' findings are indicative of widespread worsening mental health among youth during the pandemic caused by isolation from peer groups and increased use of social media.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), eating disorders are "serious, biologically influenced medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to one's eating behaviors.
"These disorders can affect a person's physical and mental health. In some cases, they can be life-threatening."
The study's authors claim it is the first meta-analysis of its kind to determine the magnitude of disordered eating among children and adolescents.
"Disordered eating in childhood/adolescence may predict outcomes associated with eating disorders in early adulthood," they wrote. "For this reason, this high proportion found is worrisome and call for urgent action to try to address this situation."
Proportion of disordered eating was elevated among youth with a larger body mass index (BMI), as well as increasing age.
"Young people who have excess weight may follow disordered eating behaviors while attempting to lose body weight," the researchers wrote. "Therefore, it has been described that young people with excess weight is the population that appears to experience symptoms of disordered eating most frequently (e.g., unsupervised weight loss dieting may lead to eating disorder risk)."
Nearly 30 million Americans, or approximately 9% of the population, will develop an eating disorder during their lifetimes.
According to the NIMH, common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder.
Anorexia is "a condition where people avoid food, severely restrict food, or eat very small quantities of only certain foods." Those affected might weigh themselves repeatedly and see themselves as overweight even when dangerously underweight.
Bulimia is "a condition where people have recurrent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over their eating." The binge eating is followed by behaviors that compensate for the overeating, such as vomiting.
With binge-eating disorder, "people lose control of their eating" and engage in recurring episodes of consuming unusually large amounts of food.
In avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, "people limit the amount or type of food eaten."
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