UF study: Adolescent girls who set goals too high may risk anorexia

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Perfectionism puts adolescent girls with unhealthy eating habits at risk for becoming anorexic and the body imperfections that go along with it as they grow older, a new University of Florida study finds.

"The hard thing is that we encourage girls to set goals," said Julia Graber, a UF psychology professor and one of the study's researchers. "We want adolescents to find things to strive for that they think are important and want to work hard for but when they set unrealistic goals, it leads to problems."

The study also found that girls who showed some bulimic tendencies, such as binge eating and occasional purging, were more likely to develop a full-blown version of the disorder if they reported symptoms of depression. The findings are reported in the current issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

About 20 percent of adolescent girls and young women experience some signs of eating disorders, with serious consequences for those whose conditions worsen, Graber said.

"They really do end up killing themselves because it affects so many systems in the body," she said.

Anorexics can develop severe heart problems because heart muscles deteriorate, while bulimics damage their gastrointestinal tracts with constant vomiting, Graber said. Many young women who experiment with these extreme weight-control measures also develop osteoporosis a condition not normally seen in their age group because they don't get proper nutrition at a time when bones are still growing, she said.

As many as 3.7 percent of women suffer from anorexia nervosa and as many as 4.2 percent are estimated to have bulimia in their lifetimes, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. Full-syndrome eating disorders are relatively uncommon so their impact on public health often is not fully appreciated, however they are associated with considerable impairment in health and interpersonal adjustment, have high relapse ra

Contact: Julia Graber
University of Florida

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