New study shows half a million teens have an eating disorder

Published: Mar. 22, 2011 at 9:20 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2011 at 9:31 PM EDT
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By Brigida Mack - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) -- The pressure to be thin. It's a growing problem for many teenagers.

A new study of teenagers ages 13 to 18 shows more than 500,000 have some type of eating disorder. Scarier than that number is the fact the study reported very small number actually seek treatment for anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating.

Dr. Angela Redlak-Olcese, director of the renowned Renfrew Center in Charlotte , isn't surprised.

"I think there is a lot of stigma and shame associated with having a eating disorder," she said. "I think there's a lot of barriers to access and care."

Jessica Hylton, now 29, can relate to that shame. She was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa as a teenager.

"It's like being a prisoner in your own body and not really know how to break out of that," Hylton said. "You can never be thin enough. Cause you could have always eaten a calorie less or exercised a minute more and that's why it's a very cruel disease."

Despite the grim news, Hylton said she battled with the disease for nearly two years before seeking treatment when she graduated high school.

"Before I sought treatment, I wanted to die rather than to live the way I was living because it was so painful."

Finally ready to face that pain, Hylton turned to the Renfrew Center, the oldest treatment facility for eating disorders in the country.

Dr. Redlack-Olcese also said anorexia and bulimia are way more prevalent among teens than most of us realize.

"This is why parents, coaches, teachers and physicians are key," she said. "They are paramount in helping detect and intervene early for these youngsters."

Hylton agreed and said teens have to reach out as well.

"I wish I had never gone down that road," she said. "I think I would encourage anyone to talk about their feelings rather to use food to cope."

The study also showed more than half of the teens studied also reported a secondary mental health problem like depression or suicidal thoughts.

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