Adolescents with fluctuating symptoms of eating disorders: a 1-year prospective study

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Abstract

Aim

This paper is a report of a study to investigate the stability of self-reported eating disorder symptoms, factors associated with them and the predictors of their recurrence.

Background

In western cultures, eating-related problems during adolescence are common but usually temporary. However, in approximately 10% of cases disordered eating is sustained, increasing the risk of a full-blown eating disorder. To distinguish adolescents with temporary eating problems from those whose problems are likely to continue, healthcare providers need to understand the progress of disordered eating and the features of high-risk adolescents.

Methods

The two-stage prospective survey was conducted with a school-based sample of adolescents aged 15–17 years. At baseline, in 2003–2004, the SCOFF (‘Sick’, ‘Control’, ‘One’, ‘Fat’ and ‘Food’) questionnaire was administered to students in the 9th year of schooling in Finland. Follow-up assessment took place 1 year later, and 372 students provided data at both assessments. Binary logistic regression analysis was performed to investigate which factors predict the recurrence of eating disorder symptoms, defined as the occurrence of eating disorder symptoms at both assessments.

Results

Five per cent of the students reported eating disorder symptoms at both assessments. Typically, they had multiple psychological problems and health complaints. Anxiety perceived earlier in adolescence resulted in an estimated odds ratio of the logistic model of 20 for the recurrence of eating disorder symptoms.

Conclusion

Earlier anxiety rather than dissatisfaction with appearance had a statistically significant effect on the progress of eating problems. Longitudinal research is needed to confirm the results. Until further knowledge is available, nurses should follow-up all adolescents with disordered eating to identify a possible need for intervention.

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