Identifying Anxiety In Teens May Catch Eating Disorders Early

mbg Editorial Assistant By Christina Coughlin
mbg Editorial Assistant
Christina Coughlin is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2019 with a degree in psychology and music.
Portrait of a Teenage Girl


Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies from an eating disorder. They affect over 30 million people in the United States alone, most of whom are young girls.

Previously, doctors were aware of a link between anxiety and eating disorders, but they were unaware of which symptoms presented themselves first and how one affected the other. A new study published in the European Eating Disorders Review further examined this link and found that teens with anxiety were at greater risk for developing eating disorders.

The link between anxiety and eating disorders.

The study followed a group of 2,406 girls starting at the age of 13 and compiled data until they turned 18. Researchers found that the risk of eating disorders was twice as common in girls who had symptoms of anxiety two years prior. 

"Increasing our understanding of disordered eating behaviors and eating disorders is a necessary step in improving outcomes of prevention efforts," says head researcher Caitlin Lloyd, Ph.D. "This is particularly important given the high burden of eating disorders, and their associated risks, with anorexia having one of the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric disorders."

The most important outcome of this study is the fact that the anxiety presented itself before the eating disorder, which gives doctors the opportunity to identify ahead of time the risk of teens developing an eating disorder.

In most eating disorders, early intervention is crucial, and treatment is most effective when it begins as early as possible. Because anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses, the more we know, the better. Studies like these are essential to finding better ways of identifying and treating people with eating disorders, with an eventual goal of preventing them altogether. 

Researchers look to the future for more research focusing on early intervention. Director of External Affairs at Beat Eating Disorders Tom Quinn says, "This study should support vital early intervention for eating disorders, and long term, we hope this research could play a role in helping to prevent these serious illnesses from developing in the first place. We also need more longitudinal studies like this to be funded, as there is still a lot more left to learn about how eating disorders develop."

Going into this holiday season, anxiety levels can be high. Make sure you're checking in with family and friends and reaching out to loved ones whenever something seems wrong. Weight loss can be a great way to promote wellness, but it should be done in a healthy and sustainable way.  


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