Eating disorders linked to suicide risk, three new studies show

People with eating disorders have a higher suicide risk.
People with eating disorders have a higher suicide risk.

Eating disorders, serious medical conditions that few report, may trigger suicide attempts, three new studies show.

Research lead by Tomoko Udo, an assistant professor of health policy, management and behaviour at the University at Albany, State University of New York, found that only half of those with eating disorders seek help, that some are less likely than others to seek help, and that people with eating disorders are five to six times more likely to try suicide.

Sex differences

Udo and her colleagues looked at data on more than 36 000 adults. Among those with an eating disorder, only 50% said they sought help. Among people with anorexia nervosa, 34.5% sought help; with bulimia, 63%, and with binge-eating disorder, 49%. Less than 30% overall said they looked for help from a counsellor or psychologist.

She also found that men and minorities were less likely to get help than women and whites for binge-eating disorder.

"These sex differences may be due to the expectation that eating disorders primarily affect young white women, which may lead to heightened stigma surrounding eating disorders for men or ethnic/racial minorities and discourage seeking treatment," Udo said in a university news release. The study was published recently in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

In another study, in the journal BMC Medicine, Udo's team found that adults with eating disorders have an increased risk of suicide attempts. People with eating disorders had a five- to sixfold higher risk of suicide attempts, compared with people without eating disorders. The risk was especially high among those with anorexia nervosa.

Overvaluation of shape or weight

In the third study of 207 people with binge-eating disorder, the researchers found that more than half of the participants placed a high value on their weight or body shape. This study was published in the journal Obesity.

Participants with this "overvaluation" of their body shape also had problems with normal activities and getting along with others. They were more likely to have serious problems in their everyday lives.

"Our findings suggest that overvaluation could signal more severe cases of binge-eating disorder, and thus it is important to assess," said Udo. "Those with binge-eating disorder who report overvaluation of shape/weight may require more intensive treatment and may benefit from treatment that specifically addresses their body image over other factors."

Image credit: iStock

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