Binge eating, drug use related in teen study

November 22, 1999

Teens who are binge eaters are more likely to use drugs and have poor mental health, says a U of T study.

"In looking at data from the 1997 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey we've discovered heavier and more problematic use of most drugs among young people who are binge eaters compared to non-bingers," says study co-author Helen Ross, a scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and professor in the department of psychiatry. "Bingers also demonstrated lower self-esteem and felt more depressed."

A sample of 1,068 girls and 934 boys from Grades 7, 9, 11 and 13 from public and separate schools in Ontario answered questions about their eating habits, alcohol and drug use and mental health. Based on their responses, the researchers categorized them as non-bingers, former bingers or bingers. The bingers were further divided into those who did or did not try to offset the effects of their bingeing with self-induced vomiting, laxatives or other purging behaviour, fasting or excessive exercise.

Binge eaters of both sexes who purged or otherwise compensated were the most likely to report drug use in the past year. As with students generally, alcohol, tobacco and cannabis were the favoured drugs.

Male students who compensated for their binge eating scored highest on a depression scale while females in the same category scored lowest on a measure of self-esteem. "Poor body image and a desire to lose weight are especially prevalent in girls who try to offset the effects of binge eating," Ross says. In the sample, 16 per cent of girls and five per cent of boys were classified as binge eaters who compensated. This group, she says, might benefit from a school-based preventive program targeting both bulimic and drug use behaviours.
Megan Easton
U of T Public Affairs
(416) 978-5948

University of Toronto

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