Bulimia, an eating disorder which involves vomiting to induce weight loss is an incredibly distressing disease – which is why a new study from Taiwan, indicating that young children are succumbing to it, is so disturbing. Strangely enough, boys seem to be more prone to experimentation with bulimia, even though the disease is usually associated with women. Boys as young as 10 reported having forced themselves to vomit to lose weight, in surprisingly large numbers.
According to the study, which will be published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, “thirteen per cent of the 8,673 girls and 7,043 boys who took part in the research admitted they made themselves sick to lose weight. But the figures were much higher in younger children, with 16% of 10-12 year-olds and 15% of 13-15 year-olds vomiting. The figures fell to 8% in 16-18 year-olds.”
But a breakdown of the data reveals that 16% of boys, and 10% of girls, reported self-induced vomiting. Obese and underweight children were both more likely to have forced vomiting than normal weight children.
According to the researchers, there were several lifestyle factors that were associated with bulimia in children and teens. Many of the children ate fried foods, desserts or night-time snacks, and similarly high numbers used a computer screen for more than two hours a day.
The lead researcher, Dr Yiing Mei Liou, explained that he believed that boys were “likely to be ‘sedentary’ children who spent hours on the internet and ate junk food.” It’s important to note, as Margaret Hartmann points out on Jezebel, that “these statistics may only indicate that the children had tried throwing up to lose weight, not that it had become a habit.”
But it’s also a larger problem, one which has been identified by other studies. According to the Daily Mail, earlier surveys of British children under 13 revealed that “three quarters feared gaining weight, 67 percent were preoccupied with their weight, half with their body shape and 43 percent with excessive exercising.”
The study thus adds research about an important – and disturbing – trend which we need to pay attention to. The researchers believe that early bulimia can lead to binge eating and anorexia later in life, and it’s crucial to realize that boys (and men) are just, if not more, vulnerable to these issues than girls (and women). In our attempts to promote healthy eating and exercise among children, the challenge is to make sure that boys and girls don’t feel so ashamed of their bodies that they resort to self-induced vomiting.
Photo from Alan Cleaver's Flickr photostream.