Binge eating may foretell future drug abuse

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Dec. 20, 2012

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Youths who report overeating and binge eating are more likely to start using marijuana and other drugs, says a study published online Dec. 10 in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Binge eating also was associated with a higher likelihood of depression and becoming overweight or obese. Previous studies have shown that the eating disorder is strongly associated with mood and anxiety disorders and substance abuse in adolescents.

The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines binge eating as consuming an amount of food that is larger than most people would eat under similar circumstances. Such eating also is characterized by a feeling of lack of control during the episode.

Researchers examined data on 16,882 youths ages 9 to 15 when they enrolled in the Growing Up Today Study in 1996. The ongoing study of adolescents aims to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that affect health throughout life.

Participants completed health-related questionnaires every one or two years between 1996 and 2007. At any point during that time, up to 3.1% of females reported binge eating compared with up to 1% of males.

During the study period, 40.7% of participants started smoking marijuana, 31.9% began using other drugs and 22.5% developed high levels of depressive symptoms.

Youths who reported overeating were 2.67 times more likely to start smoking marijuana than participants with conventional eating habits. Those who said they binge eat were 1.85 times more likely to begin using the drug (link).

The study authors recommend that physicians consider screening youths for binge eating. They said implementation of school- and community-based interventions that are focused on preventing the condition might help prevent eating disorders and obesity among children, adolescents and young adults.

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