A study reveals that some teens who suffer from eating disorders develop these at just 12 years old. Patients with certain types of eating disorders also seem to be more prone to depression or attempts of suicide.
"About 500,000 kids in the U.S. will have suffered from one of these problems during their lifetime," said Dr. Kathleen Merikangas, senior investigator for the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the study. Researchers surveyed more than 10,000 teens across the country.
One of them is Michelle Kaplan-Cohen. She says she became anorexic when she was 14, going from 110 to 70 or 80 pounds. The thought of gaining weight terrified her.
"It seemed like the worst thing in the world- like there was many times I'd rather die than that, she said.
Her struggles were obvious, said her father. "Simply by looking at Michelle you could tell she was in serious medical difficulty," Michael Cohen said.
"We were on the brink of death a number of times," added her mother, Dorothy Kaplan. Michelle had to be hospitalized a number of times.
"I kinda lost the sister at that time that, you know, I'd always been so close with," said Melanie Kaplan-Cohen.
People who suffer from anorexia pursue an extremely thin body. They constantly fear gaining weight, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some try to lose weight by dieting and exercising excessively; others vomit or abuse drugs such as laxatives, the institute writes on its website.
Patients with bulimia, binge-eating disorder more prone to depression, study finds
Patients with bulimia eat too much, binging on food and then following with either vomiting or otherwise "making up" for the food intake by dieting, exercising or using medications. They can fall within a standard weight range, and often conceal their eating behavior.
Unlike bulimia, people with binge-eating disorder don't follow excessive eating by purging or excessive exercise. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese, the institute states.
The study finds teens who binge-eat or have bulimia are highly likely to also suffer from other mood and anxiety disorders. That sets them apart from the teenagers with anorexia.
"That was very surprising to us because those youth who had anorexia nervosa, which is typically thought of as the most serious of the eating conditions, did not have all these other conditions," said Merikangas.
More than a third of the teens with bulimia reported attempting suicide, significantly more than those with anorexia or binge-eating disorder.
Kaplan-Cohen says as she tried to gain weight, she began binge-eating and felt depressed and suicidal at times.
"I think there were three times when I had a plan," to commit suicide, she said.
She receiving treatment at numerous centers, and support from her family and friends. "My eating patterns are much, much better," the now 19-year-old said.
She hopes other teens battling eating disorders can do the same.
"If you can have hope and belief then you have to trust those that love you because they know better and they can help you," she said.
The study reveals most teens with an eating disorder seek medical help. Less than a third receive treatment specifically for their eating or weight problems.
For those who are or know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline can be reached at (800) 931-2237 or at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.