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Disordered eating in US teenagers


Clinical bottom line

A significant minority of teenagers in Minnesota have disordered eating behaviours. It was more prevalent in young women than young men.


J Croll et al. Prevalence and risk and protective factors related to disordered eating behaviours among adolescents: relationship to gender and ethnicity. Journal of Adolescent Health 2002 31: 166-175.


The Minnesota Student Survey has been administered since 1989 to cohorts of students in Minnesota school districts. This paper relates to 9th and 12th grade students completing the survey in 1998. These grades were asked questions about disordered eating: "during the last 12 months have you done any of the following to lose or control your weight?".

There followed a list that included fasting or skipping meals, smoking cigarettes, using diet pills or speed, vomiting on purpose after eating and using laxatives.

In Minnesota 92% of school districts participated, with 72% of 9th garde and 52% of 12th garde participation.


The final sample was of 40,600 young women and 39,700 young men. Eating disorder was common among them, especially among young women (Figure 1). Over 50% of young women exhibited some disordered eating behaviour.

Figure 1: Disordered eating in 9th and 12th graders in Minnesota

Risk factors included cigarette smoking, appearance concerns and alcohol use. Protective factors were positive self-esteem, emotional well being, school achievement, and family connectedness. There were some differences with ethnicity, especially in young women.


While disordered eating in teenagers is not in itself a surprise, the scale of it might be. It is something to be aware of, for parents and teachers, and others who work with young people.