Unhealthy eating behaviour in adolescents

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In recent years, eating disorders (Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa) have increased and are appearing at increasingly younger ages. They affect predominantly adolescent females 12 to 25 years of age. The objective of this study of adolescents is to detect and discuss unhealthy eating behaviour, defined by either of two factors: (1) following a slimming diet not advised or supervised by any person trained in health care; or (2) eating very large quantities at irregular times, not related to anxiety or stress. A transversal study has been undertaken of 630 school children of 14–18 years of age (average: 15.9 years) in Cádiz (Andalucia, Spain), using an anonymous self-reporting questionnaire to collect data on personal and educational situation, on eating habits, on nutritive intake and knowledge of nutrition, and on dieting and physical exercise. The study has considered averages, ratios, statistical significance (κ2) and, as a measure of risk, the Disequality Ratio of Prevalence (DRP). Anomalous eating behaviour was detected in 46.3% (292), with females predominant by a ratio of 2:1. Comparing groups with anomalous and with normal eating habits, significant differences were detected in respect of: perception of body image (p < 0.001), frequency of weighing oneself (p < 0.05), periods of abstinence from eating (DRP 1.66; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.66–2.37), provocation of vomiting (DRP 2.02; 95% CI: 1.13–3.65), use of laxatives (DRP 4.25; 95% CI: 1.08–9.63), and the exclusion of certain meals and types of food, mainly bread and cereals, fats and sugars. Conclusions are drawn on the substantial scale of unhealthy eating behaviour among adolescents in Cadiz. More adequate education on personal health and related social issues should be provided.

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