Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Disordered Eating Behavior in Youth May Increase Future Risk of Depression

Youth who display behavior commonly associated with eating disorders may be at a greater risk of future depressive symptoms and bullying by peers, reports a study published today in JAMA Psychiatry. Disordered eating behavior includes such actions as eating in secret or purposefully vomiting after a meal.

The findings suggest that “interventions to treat disordered eating behavior could prove to be beneficial for reductions in depressive symptoms and problematic peer relations,” wrote study authors Kirsty S. Lee, Ph.D., and Tracy Vaillancourt, Ph.D., of the University of Ottawa. “Interventions for disordered eating behavior should ideally target negative attitudes, promote healthy weight control behavior, and contain an element of self-compassion, which can reduce symptoms of disordered eating and other psychopathologic symptoms.”

To examine the concurrent and long-term relationship between bullying by peers, disordered eating behavior, and symptoms of depression, Lee and Vaillancourt analyzed data from the McMaster Teen Study—an ongoing longitudinal study that has been collecting information about bullying and mental health in youth annually since 2008 (when the participants were in 5th grade, or about 10 years old). The current analysis focused on data collected from students in grades 7 through 11 (aged 13 to 17).

A total of 612 students completed annual online or paper questionnaires, which asked them to gauge how often they experienced bullying at school, engaged in disordered eating behavior, and felt depressed.

A statistical model used by the authors revealed that “bullying by peers was concurrently associated with disordered eating behavior and depressive symptoms at every time point during the five-year period,” they reported. The model also revealed that disordered eating behavior was associated with increases in depressive symptoms in the following year.

“Notably, the pathway was always from disordered eating behavior to depression and not depression to disordered eating behavior,” Vaillancourt told Psychiatric News by email. “Thus, a focus on disordered eating behavior could help prevent mood problems in teens, particularly girls (the link between disordered eating behavior and depression was stronger in girls compared with boys).”

For related information on eating disorders, see the book Handbook of Assessment and Treatment of Eating Disorders, by APA Publishing.

(iStock/Stígur Már Karlsson/Heimsmyndir)