A study from Taiwan of 16,000 school-age children trying to lose weight showed that children as young as 10 made themselves vomit. And the problem was more common in boys than girls.
The findings prompted researchers to issue a warning that self-induced vomiting is an early sign that children could develop eating disorders and serious psychological problems, such as binge eating and anorexia.
The study is found in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
In the study, 13 percent of the 8,673 girls and 7,043 boys who took part in the research admitted they made themselves sick to lose weight.
The behavior was much higher in younger children, with 16 percent of 10-12 year-olds and 15 percent of 13-15 year-olds vomiting. As children aged, the behavior dropped to 8 percent among 16-18 year-olds.
The study of 120 schools, carried out for Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, also found that 16 percent of boys made themselves sick, compared with 10 percent of girls.
“Our study, which was part of a wider research project on health and growth, focused on children who said that they had tried to lose weight in the last year,” said lead author Yiing Mei Liou, Ph.D.
“It showed that self-induced vomiting was most prevalent in adolescents who had a sedentary lifestyle, slept less and ate unhealthily. ”
Liou, director of the School Health Research Center at National Yang-Ming University, noted that obesity is a growing problem in industrialized countries and is an increasingly important medical, psychosocial and economic issue. It’s estimated that obesity among children and teenagers has nearly tripled over the last three decades and international studies have revealed worrying trends.
“For example, a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in 2010, found that 4 percent of students had vomited or taken laxatives in the last 30 days to lose or stop gaining weight. And a South Australian study published in 2008 said that eating disorders had doubled in the last decade,” she said.
The Taiwan study found that 18 percent of the underweight children used vomiting as a weight-loss strategy, compared with 17 percent of obese children and 14 percent of overweight children. Normal weight children were least likely to vomit (12 percent).
A number of factors were associated with high levels of self-induced vomiting. For example, more than 21 percent of the children who vomited ate fried food every day, 19 percent ate desserts every day, 18 percent ate night-time snacks every day and 18 percent used a computer for more than two hours a day.
When the researchers carried out an odds-ratio analysis, they found that using a computer for more than two hours a day increased the vomiting risk by 55 percent, eating fried food every day by 110 percent and having night-time snacks every day by 51 percent. They also found that children were less likely to make themselves sick if they slept more than eight hours a night and ate breakfast every day.
“Our study found that children as young as 10 were aware of the importance of weight control, but used vomiting to control their weight,” said Liou.
“This reinforces the need for public health campaigns that stress the negative impact that vomiting can have on their health and encourage them to tackle any weight issues in a healthy and responsible way.
“The findings also suggest that self-induced vomiting might serve as an early marker for the development of obesity and/or other eating and weight-related problems.”