Eating disorders. Prevalence and risk profile among secondary school students.

Research paper by Agustín Tomás AT Vega Alonso, María Angeles MA Rasillo Rodríguez, José Eugenio JE Lozano Alonso, Gloria G Rodríguez Carretero, Manuel Franco MF Martín

Indexed on: 13 Dec '05Published on: 13 Dec '05Published in: Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology


Eating disorders (EDs) are an important public health problem in developed countries. Despite the amount of epidemiological studies and causal theories, there is a great disparity of estimates and many questions remain still unclear. The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of the population at risk of developing EDs and describe the risk profiles among adolescents and young people.A transversal design using a two-stage cluster sample of secondary education students aged between 12 and 18 years was used. The survey consisted of a socio-demographic questionnaire along with the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT)-40 index and was carried out between May and June 1999.Results showed that 7.8% of the secondary school population had a high risk of developing eating disorders (EAT-40 higher than 30). Females presented a higher percentage [12.3%; 95% confidence limits (CL) 10.4-14.3%] than males (3.2%; 95% CL 2.1-4.2%) at the highest risk levels. A decreasing risk gradient was observed with age.The estimates show an important difference between the risk in females and in males and suggests that the risk is incremented above all in the last few years of infancy and the first years of adolescence, when these boys and girls are more vulnerable to socio-cultural influences and do not yet have defined image and "behaviour models".