Eighteen percent of school children who took part in two health surveys carried out a year apart admitted they had eating problems, according to research published in the latest Journal of Advanced Nursing.
Students who had ongoing eating problems were more likely to report multiple psychological problems and health complaints.
Researchers from the Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic at the University of Turku, Finland, noticed that students who reported suffering from anxiety earlier in adolescence were 20 times more likely to have ongoing eating problems. And teenagers who were dissatisfied with their appearance only had recurring eating problems if they also reported anxiety earlier in adolescence.
The survey also found that girls were twice as likely to report eating problems on one occasion than boys and five times more likely to have ongoing problems.
Seventy-seven percent were unhappy with their weight and 46% with their appearance. Despite this, when the researchers looked at the height and weight records kept by the school nurses, they found that even students with persistent eating problems were more likely to be normal weight than over or underweight.
"Our study backs up previous research that shows that eating problems often fluctuate in children of this age and in 50 to 60% of cases last about one to two years," says Lea Hautala.
"We believe that our results point to the need for schools to screen adolescents with psychological problems or multiple health complaints for eating problems, as these are the two key predictive factors that emerged from our study."