October 31, 2007

Publication: Evening Herald

Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 Page: 1 

Author: Aoife Anderson


One-in-ten girls have eating concerns as young as six are now battling anorexia, a health expert revealed today. The revelation comes as a new report shows that a staggering llpc of young girls in Ireland have significant eating concerns. A ground breaking new study among Irish adolescents, revealed exclusively to the Evening Herald, found that anorexia and bulimia now pose a considerable threat to the health and well being of adolescents in this country. "There is a suggestion that Irish adolescents may demonstrate a higher level of bulimic type behaviours and concerns" than their international peers, the study states.

Suzanne Kelly of the Eating Disorder Resource Centre in Ireland said: "Eating disorders are the next cancer in Ireland. "The youngest person I have come across with an eating disorder is just six years old. "They (eating disorders) are far more prevalent than ever before but we have to remember that even the statistics aren't accurate because a lot of people will not admit they have a problem. "We are heading towards a major problem in Ireland in terms of all types of eating disorders from anorexia to obesity. "People don't realise the extent that young people are suffering in this country," Ms Kelly added. She also described a case where a little girl aged just five refused to play with Bratz dolls because she thought they were "too fat" and feared she would get fat playing with them. Instead, she insisted on only playing with Barbie dolls "because they are skinny and pretty". "Although this kind of case is not common, it is extremely scary," Ms Kelly said. " I see this problem as getting worse before it gets better. There are resources to help people get better but we need much more," she added.

The soon to be released study, titled Eating Problems In Children and Adolescents (EPICA), was conducted by experts at the St John of God's Lucena Foundation in Rathgar, Dublin. It found that compared with other major psychiatric disorders, eating disorders in Ireland have the higest mortality rate resulting from medical complications of illness and by completed suicides. The aim of the study was to establish the eating, dieting and exercise habits of seconday school children and their parents in Ireland. More than 3,000 second level students aged between 12-18 years participated in the study from a random sample of 52 Irish schools. From this data, it was found that almost llpc of the girls had significant eating concerns.

The study also found that although the global levels of eating concern among Irish adolescents are comparable to those internationally, "there is a suggestion that Irish adolescents may demonstrate a higher level of bulimic type behaviours". Irish youngesters were also found to be more likely to be dissatisfied with the quality of their life, their friends and their academic level and were more depressed that those who were not preoccupied with weight and shape concerns. They were also more likely to be affected by the media portrayal of the ideal weight and shape. Speaking about the new study, eating disorder expert Alison Darcy of UCD and St John of God's Foundation said: "This EPICA study is the first attempt to get Irish figures for eating disorders so it is extremely important. "It has provided some extremely valuable information because the fact that it is a community based study means it is very accurate. "More than one in ten young people are showing eating concerns and this study is the first of its kind to highlight the problem here," she added.

Concerned parents who are worried about their children's relationship with food are being invited to an information evening on how to approach the problem by a leading Dublin based foundation. A huge number of parents have already signed up for the free two-and-a-half hour seminar amid growing concerns about the number of teenage children battling eating disorders in this country. The Lucena Foundation in Rathgar are organising a parents and carers information session on how to help and support young adolescents with eating disorders. The evening, which is part of series of seminars for parents being hosted by the foundation over the next few months, will include a talk from Prof Fiona McNicholas, a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Lucena Clinic Services and Dr Michele Coyle, a Clinical Psychologist from St. John of God Services. The information evening, which will be held on Tuesday November 6, will be chained by eating disorders expert Dr Cara Prior, who is based full-time at the Lucena Clinic Services on Orwell Road in Rathgar. Places are limited to just 150 so anyone interested in attending is asked to contact 01- 4923596 or 4999349.

11 PC of girls have significant eating concerns. 1.2pc of girls were identified as being "at risk" of having Anorexia Nervosa. 1.5pc of girls were identified as being "at risk" of having Bulimia Nervosa. 43.7pc of participants in the study admitted to being affected a little or a lot by the media portrayal of shape and weight with more than half believing it to be "too thin" or "far too thin". 71pc of females and 88pc of males admitted to exercising more than twice per week. 32pc of females indicated dieting sometimes, often or always.