A significant percentage of adolescents attending hospital emergency response (ER) departments have eating disorders, suggest results from a US study.
The researchers also found that these teenagers often had depression and a history of substance abuse.
"They come in for other things - and it's up to health care providers to know what to look for," commented study author Suzanne Dooley-Hash (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) in a press statement.
"ER teams can be equipped to refer patients for care, just as we do for substance abuse. It could be a wakeup call, a teachable moment, a chance to tell them they need to seek help and direct them to resources," she added.
The investigators recruited 942 adolescents between the age of 14 and 20 years who were attending the ER department of the University of Michigan Medical Center for any reason between October 2010 and March 2011.
As reported in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, following completion of a computerized questionnaire known as the SCOFF, an adapted version of a previously validated form used to diagnose eating disorders, the team found that 16% of the young people tested positive for an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder).
Dooley-Hash and colleagues then compared demographics, body mass index (BMI), substance use, and depression between those with a positive score on the SCOFF (patients) and those who had a negative score (controls).
They discovered that 69.2% of eating disorder patients were normal or underweight (BMI <25 kg/m2), 19.3% were overweight (BMI 25-30 kg/m2), and 11.5% were obese (BMI >30 kg/m2). Girls were a significant 3.27 times more likely to have an eating disorder than boys, following adjustment for potential confounders. No differences in diagnosis rates were observed across ethnic or income groups.
Depression and substance use (risky drinking or use of stimulants) were also significantly more common in patients than controls, by 3.31- and 1.19-2.08-fold, respectively.
"These results underscore the importance of maintaining a high index of suspicion for eating disorders in adolescents and young adults regardless of gender, ethnicity, and/or socioeconomic status," write the authors.
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