AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: The aim of the study was to enhance the detection of disordered eating in adolescents. The objectives were to examine gender differences in the prevalence of eating disorder symptoms, in occurrence of health-risk factors and susceptibility to these and to investigate associations between health-risk factors and eating disorder symptoms. BACKGROUND: Disordered eating has a strong female preponderance. Reasons for the gender discrepancy are not well known. However, to develop effective strategies for eating disorder prevention, we need to understand gender differences in disordered eating and the related factors. DESIGN: This is a school-based, cross-sectional cohort study with a natural design. METHODS: The SCOFF and the R-BDI questionnaires were administered to students (14-15 years old) attending the eighth grade of secondary school. Information about health-risk factors was obtained from the adolescents' school health-care records. RESULTS: The results were based on data from 1036 (71% of the sample) students. Self-reported eating disorder symptoms were prevalent in 24% of the girls and 16% of the boys. Girls reported many of the health-risk factors studied at a higher rate than boys. However, there were no gender differences in susceptibility to these factors. Dissatisfaction with appearance or weight, use of tobacco, lack of regular meals and poor communication with parents increased the likelihood of eating disorder symptoms in both genders. CONCLUSIONS: Gender differences in disordered eating are relatively small in adolescence. To enhance the detection of eating disorder symptoms, both girls and boys should be screened for these problems in secondary school. RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: The results can help nurses to use the information obtained from adolescents' health-care records, their annual health examinations and their responses to the SCOFF questionnaire to identify those who need further intervention, including adolescent boys.
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