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Lack of support at times of stress may trigger anorexia or bulimia

Washington , Wed, 25 Apr 2012 ANI
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Washington, April 25(ANI): Eating disorders can be caused by lack of support following traumatic events such as bereavement, relationship problems, abuse and sexual assault, according to a new study.

Even changing school or moving home can prove too much for some young people and lead to conditions such as anorexia or bulimia.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota, USA, spoke to 26 women and one man aged from 17 to 64 receiving treatment from a specialist outpatient clinic. They had suffered from eating disorders for an average of 20 years.

"The aim of our study was to find out if there was any link between transitional events in family life and the onset of eating disorders" said lead author Dr Jerica M Berge, Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University.

"Eating disorders are an important public health issue and knowing what causes them can help us to develop more effective treatment and support," she said.

The patients had a median age of 27 years and had been receiving treatment for between ten months and 18 years. Nine had anorexia nervosa, three had bulimia nervosa, one had both and the other 14 had eating disorders that did not meet the diagnostic criteria for any one specific condition.

Six key themes covered the transitional events that preceded eating disorders:

School transition. Some talked about the problems they had adapting to the more independent world of junior high school and others talked about leaving home to go to college and how they missed friends and family.

Relationship changes. Breaking up with a partner affected some participants and others talked about their parents splitting up and moving on.

Death of a family member. The death of a family member or close friend often proved traumatic, with people saying that they didn't not know how to deal with their grief and that they received little support.

Home and job transition. Some were affected by their family relocating or losing their job and described how they felt lonely, unsupported and lacked close relationships during these transitions.

Illness/hospitalisation. A number had been ill and some said that their weight loss made them feel good and prompted positive comments from others.

Abuse/sexual assault/incest. Some talked about abusive events and how they felt let down or deserted by the very friends and family they needed to support them. Two said they ate more to become unattractive or bigger and intimidating.

According to Dr Berge, the study confirms that eating disorders can be triggered by a number of life changes and that lack of support was a common theme.

"We hope that our findings will be of interest to parents as well as health professionals as they underline the need for greater awareness and support at times of change and stress," she added.

The study appeared in the May issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing. (ANI)

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