Study suggests eating disorders and being bullied may be more related than we thought
Recently, there has been a strong push to undo the stigma and isolation that surround eating disorders by increasing public discussion and awareness. However, a new study shows that teens with eating disorder still face a high risk for depression and bullying from peers, suggesting the stigma is still a major issue for those living with eating disorders.
According to a new report published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, adolescents who exhibited signs of disordered eating faced a higher risk for future depression and bullying.
Disordered eating was specifically associated with high risk for future depressive symptoms up to five years later, as Kirsty S. Lee, Ph.D., and Tracy Vaillancourt, Ph.D. from the University of Ottawa in Canada.
The study relied on data collected from 6012 adolescent boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 17, which was gathered as part of the Canadian McMaster Teen Study. Approximately 54% of the participants were female and 71% were white. The teen study asks students to self-report perceptions of bullying, mental health symptoms, and eating disorder signs such as “how often do you eat in secret” and “how often do you vomit on purpose after eating.”
While eating disorders or disordered eating symptoms are typically associated with you females, the findings indicate both sexes face similar long-term consequences.
The associations between bullying and eating disorders have been significantly studied in the past, but this research has consistently focused on situations where bullying may lead to disordered eating behavior. The most recent study is the first to explore the possibility that existing eating disorders may contribute to a heightened risk for bullying.
“Previous studies have found depressive symptoms to be a risk factor for bullying by peers but this is the first study to our knowledge to find disordered eating to be a risk factor for being bullied in a non-clinical sample of adolescents” the authors wrote.
However, the findings do not conclusively prove that disordered eating “causes” bullying or depressive behavior. The authors explain that often these experiences are brought about by a number of psychological and biological factors. Lee and Vaillancourt note that disordered eating has been linked to depression and anxiety, which have in turn been linked to bullying.
Still, the researchers believe the findings could provide opportunities for intervention or destigmatizing disordered eating behavior.
“Currently, interventions to treat disordered eating behavior could prove beneficial for reductions in depressive symptoms and problematic peer relations. Interventions for disordered eating behavior should ideally target negative attitudes, promote healthy weight control behavior, and contain an element of self-compassion, which can reduce symptoms of disordered eating and other psycho-pathologic symptoms,” wrote Lee and Vaillancourt.