Fitness fads fuel eating disorders

TEENAGERS who were overweight as children and bullied in the schoolyard are increasingly showing up at hospital with life-threatening eating disorders.

About 40 per cent of teenagers presenting with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, at Westmead Hospital, had a heavier-than-normal weight as kids, according to the hospital’s director of adolescent health Professor Simon Clarke.

“We became more aware about three years ago that we were admitting more and more kids who were (previously) obese and overweight who were medically ill,” Prof Clarke said.

Many of these teenagers were still in the healthy weight range, but had symptoms ranging from a very slow heart rate to low blood pressure, blue hands and hairy arms.

“They are coming in and they are very ill because they have lost weight — so ill that they are required to be admitted to hospital and they will be very hard to treat.

“If you have an eating disorder, it’s an eight-year illness on average. A lot have it for their lifetime.”

Prof Clarke said the psychological profile of these teenagers, mainly girls, was often worse than those who started out with a lighter weight when they were admitted to hospital.

He said a common theme was bullying and low self-esteem.

“A lot of the kids we see were overweight as youngsters. They were bullied at school and they remember the bullying,” Prof Clarke said.

“And they may have been given the wrong message, which is diet, rather than healthy food and exercising regularly.”