Potentially irreversible medical complications of eating disorders include growth retardation, pubertal delay or arrest, osteoporosis and risk of fractures. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate amongst all mental health disorders, most often due to suicide or medical complications. It is no secret that the UAE has one of the highest obesity rates in adolescents. In addition to the risk of chronic lifestyle conditions; adolescents face yet another health-related threat with Binge Eating Disorders.
Dr Veena Luthra, Consultant Psychiatrist, American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, Abu Dhabi, UAE, will reflect on the psychological and physical dangers of eating disorders in UAE adolescents at the Paediatrics Conference during the Arab Health Recruitment & Training Fair from 18-20 October 2014 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
According to Dr Luthra, “The most common eating disorders in adolescent patients in our clinic are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. The onset of Anorexia is bimodal, peaking in the early (age 14) and late (age 18) teen years. Bulimia usually starts in the late teens. Moreover, Binge Eating Disorder is frequently associated with obesity and is also considered an eating disorder. Patients suffering from this disorder often do not seek mental health treatment. This is a major concern because rising obesity is a public health issue in UAE.”
Eating disorders are more common in females and the ratio is 10:1 for anorexia and bulimia in adult women. However, in children and adolescents, the ratio is lower at 3:1 while the difference between the genders is even less in Binge Eating disorders.
“The root causes for the development of these conditions in UAE adolescents are familial, biological, social and cultural factors,” highlights Dr Luthra.
“The risk of eating disorders is 10 times higher in first-degree relatives, due to genetic factors. Puberty often triggers the onset of eating disorders as well; frequently the teen starts off with a diet to lose a few kilograms and this spirals into an eating disorder.
“Traumatic events can also trigger eating disorders. These might include bereavement, being bullied or abused, a divorce in the family or concerns about sexuality. ”
Some of the warning signs parents should look for in their adolescent children are; unexplained weight loss, a change in eating patterns, excessive exercise even when injured, frequent vomiting after ingesting food, consuming diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics.
“Eating disorders can be life-threatening so parents must seek treatment for their teen. Do not dismiss it as a passing phase and delay treatment. Early intervention has the best results so treatment should be started immediately before the disease becomes chronic and more resistant to treatment. Adolescents have less nutritional reserves than adults and their medical risk can rapidly escalate,” warned Dr Luthra.