As many as one in four teenage girls suffers from the symptoms of an eating disorder, according to new research done in Canada. A study of 1,739 girls, aged 12 to 18, showed that 27 per cent had symptoms of binge eating, purging or excessive dieting.
Many girls displayed signs of disordered eating before the age of 14, scientists from Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto found. Dr Jennifer Jones, who led the team, said: "Our data indicates that an alarming number of Ontario schoolgirls report disordered attitudes about food and weight and unhealthy weight-loss behaviour."
There is concern that the number of British teenagers with eating disorders has grown because of the constant scrutiny of celebrities' bodies.
Earlier this week, Victoria Beckham, the singer who has been called "Skeletal Spice", admitted she had suffered from an eating disorder because of the pressure to be thin.
Ms Beckham said she became "obsessive" about her eating after Geri Halliwell, the former Spice Girl, encouraged her to do more exercise, opt for low-fat choices and reduce her food intake. She said: "I changed from someone who was dieting to lose a bit of weight to being obsessive. I was shrinking, and the excitement of getting thinner quite took away the hunger."
An estimated 60,000 people in Britain suffer from eating disorders at any one time, 90 per cent of whom are female. But specialists said yesterday they did not think that disturbed eating among teenagers in this country had reached the levels reported from the Canadian research.
Jasmine Challis, a specialist in teenage eating disorders and a member of the British Dietetic Association, said comparisons with Canada were difficult without knowing the definitions used in the research. But she said: "There is certainly a large amount of disordered eating, which might not necessarily mean full-blown disorders.
"We are losing the plot a little about what is normal eating anyway. We are in an era when three meals a day, and not much in between, is becoming rarer ... I am depressed by the Canadian data, but hopefully we don't have such a high incidence."Reuse content