Earlier Screening May Aid in Detection of Eating Disorders

In one study, boys and girls as young as 10 had signs of disordered eating

How common are eating disorders among preteens in the US? We know a lot about ED prevalence in teens and adults, but for pre-teens, the answer is largely unknown. A recent study at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, has added new and helpful data. The USC researchers sought to add new estimates of EDs in preadolescents by using cross-sectional data from the first-year sample of the nationwide Adolescent Cognitive Brain Development (ABCD) study. ABCD is an important nationwide study examining brain development in nearly 12,000 kids who entered the study when they were 9 to 10 years old.

Extensive assessment of participants allows examination of a myriad of questions. For example, the data allowed Murray and colleagues to estimate the incidence of anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), binge eating disorder (BED) and other specified ED subclinical markers among 10- to 11-year-olds in the US (J Adolesc Health. 2022. 70:825).

BED was the most prevalent in preteens

The researchers found that full-blown or full-threshold EDs are relatively uncommon among 10- to 11-year-olds in the US. Of all the ED phenotypes they evaluated, BED was the most prevalent, at 1.1%. There were no cases of AN, and few of BN (JAMA Pediatr. 2019. 173:100). However, threshold cases were much more common: 6%, 0.2%, and 0.5% for subthreshold AN, BN, and BED, respectively.

These findings underscore the importance of early screening for BED and other EDs among preadolescents. Earlier screening may also potentially “aid efforts to curb pediatric obesity and related side effects throughout later adolescence,” according to the authors. They note the prevalence of EDs is not markedly higher in preteen females than males, unlike the cases seen at older ages. This is another really interesting finding that could fit well with twin research (by Klump and colleagues, among others), showing differential risk by gender at different ages.

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