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CMAJ. 2001 Sep 4;165(5):547-52.

Disordered eating attitudes and behaviours in teenaged girls: a school-based study.

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Department of Psychiatry, University Health Network, Institute of Medical Sciences, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont.



Disordered eating attitudes and behaviours are common in older teens and young women in Western countries. Recent evidence suggests that the prevalence of these disorders is rising and that the age of onset has fallen. In the present study, disturbed eating attitudes and behaviours were evaluated in a large school-based population in Ontario in order to determine their prevalence and demographic distribution.


Females, aged 12-18 years, from schools in Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa were invited to complete questionnaires, including 3 subscales of the Eating Disorder Inventory (Drive for Thinness, Body Dissatisfaction, Bulimia), the Eating Attitudes Test-26 (EAT-26) and the Diagnostic Survey for Eating Disorders (DSED).


Questionnaires were completed by 1739 (70%) of the 2483 adolescent females who were approached. The mean age of subjects in the sample was 14.6 (standard deviation 1.9) years. Thirteen percent of those aged 12-14 years and 16% of those aged 15-18 years had scores above the recommended cut-off (> or = 20) for disordered eating on the EAT-26. Current dieting to lose weight was reported by 23% of participants. Binge eating with associated loss of control was reported by 15% of participants, self-induced vomiting by 8.2% and the use of diet pills by 2.4%. Laxative and diuretic misuse were uncommon. Dieting was associated with an increased risk of binge-eating and purging behaviours. Older age and body mass index in the highest quartile were independently related to symptoms of eating disorders.


Disordered eating attitudes and behaviours were present in over 27% of girls aged 12-18 years and were seen to increase gradually throughout adolescence. Prevention programs to diminish the progression and impact of these disorders should be implemented and assessed.

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