More teens than ever before are suffering from eating disorders -- and they're also more likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts, a new study shows.
Researchers report that 3 percent of more than 10,000 teens ages 13 to 18 surveyed suffer from anorexia nervosa, 9 percent from bulimia nervosa and 1.6 percent from binge eating disorder reports.
The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, is billed as the largest and most comprehensive look at teens and eating disorders.
Researchers at the National Institutes of of Mental Health found the majority of those with any eating disorder also were burdened with at least one other mental health issue. This was the case with nearly nine in 10 bulimic adolescents, and more than eight in 10 of those with a binge eating problem, website HealthDay News reports.
All eating disorders were associated with a higher lifetime risk for suicidal tendencies, according to the HealthDay.
Researchers also noted that the age when patients began having eating disorders was "markedly younger" than in previous estimates, CNN reports. The median age for the onset of anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and other eating disorders was 12.
Though boys and girls appeared to be equally susceptible to anorexia, girls were found to be more likely to develop bulimia and/or binge eating disorders, HealthDay reports.
The positive news: Researchers found most of the teens who were eventually diagnosed with eating disorders appeared to be receiving treatment for their food issues, HealthDay adds.
"This article aptly points out that we should not dismiss eating disorders as a public health problem simply because their prevalence is lower than some other major mental illnesses," Mary Tantillo, director of the Western New York Comprehensive Care Center for Eating Disorders and an associate professor of clinical nursing at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, tells HealthDay in a statement.
Tantillo tells the site eating disorders are diseases of disconnection and can become chronic and eventually kill due to the social impairment and isolation they create.
"Despite loving families, friends and school personnel, afflicted teens can go months or years undetected due to the secrecy and shame surrounding the illness, and the ways in which the disease affects the brain and distorts how they perceive it," she tells HealthDay.
Tantillo tells the site timely diagnosis is often hindered by teens not recognizing the need to ask for help.
"Clearly, when eating disorders in adolescents are not quickly identified and treated, there are great costs to the teen, his or her family and society," she says.