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Secret health challenges of Colorado teens

Colorado teenagers appear healthy. Displaying physical fitness, female Colorado teens exercise more, and watch television less, than national averages.

However, according to these same National Health Surveys, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are indications of deeper troubles.

Are these seemingly healthy kids at greater risk for eating disorders? To address this concern, let’s look at factors contributing to disordered eating.



The three main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Do teens feel social pressures to maintain unrealistically thin bodies? Does junk food contribute to weight issues?

Each of the eating disorders manifests in different behaviors, but they all are based on disordered thinking. Social pressures are unlikely to pose a serious health threat to a teen, compared to deeper beliefs.



Symptoms of anorexia include an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of weight or fat gain, absence of menstruation in females, and a distorted body image. Anorexic teens perceive their bodies as fat or overweight, despite becoming dangerously underweight.

Unlike other psychological disorders, anorexia can be fatal. One team of scientists devoted to the “Development of Research Priorities for the Treatment of AN” noted mortality rates as high as 20 percent, over 15 years of follow-up with anorexic patients. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, the estimated mortality rate among anorexic females ages 15-24 is a shocking 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all causes of death.

Other physical complications that accompany anorexia may include cardiac conditions, kidney failure and electrolyte imbalance. NIMH psychiatrists are also concerned with the concurrence of other psychiatric disorders such as depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders.

Distorted body image and fear of weight gain also represent bulimia. Unlike food restriction in anorexia, bulimic behavior displays healthy eating or binge-eating, followed by secretive compensatory methods to eliminate food from the body. People with bulimia are more likely to maintain a normal weight, but many also struggle with anorexia.

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by episodes of excessive food consumption. Again, people who binge often feel out-of-control, and depressed and guilty about their eating problems. Unlike bulimia, compensatory actions are not taken.

Despite the great exercise habits noted by the CDC surveys, our teens consume diet products more often and tend to practice more at-risk behavior such as alcohol and cigarette use. Of critical importance, Colorado teens reported contemplating and attempting suicide more often than the national average.

How can we prevent eating disorders? On a larger scale, adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jay Giedd studies how genetics, nutrition, toxins, bacteria, viruses, and hormones affect the brains of teenagers. Giedd researches the relationship between teenage brain development and psychiatric disorders.

At home, communication between parents and teens is the key to prevention. In addition to communication, parents and guardians should secure professional help if their teen shows signs of eating disorders. Communication and assistance may diminish negative consequences, and perhaps empower teens to become both physically and psychologically healthy.


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