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Schools affect the spread of eating disorders

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Posted April 25, 2016

Many factors, such as image of beauty in society, contribute to the spread of eating disorders.  Pictures of lean famous women, various articles about how important it is to be skinny and beauty contests can all be rightly blamed for leading girls to obsessive care about their weight. However, new study from number of different science institutions says that the school girl attends is also very important in this regard.

Although many factors are important, girls in schools with higher proportions of female students and high proportions of university- educated parents are more likely to develop eating disorders. Image credit: Ashton B Crew via Wikimedia, CC-BY-3.0

Although many factors are important, girls in schools with higher proportions of female students and high proportions of university- educated parents are more likely to develop eating disorders. Image credit: Ashton B Crew via Wikimedia, CC-BY-3.0

International team of scientists from Oxford University, UCL, the University of Bristol, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm used data collected in Sweden to research causes pushing girl to eating disorders. Although many factors contribute to the development of this type of condition, scientists still found that there are great variations in accordance to the school girls attend. Schools with higher proportions of female students and high proportions of university- educated parents are more likely to have girls that are diagnosed with eating disorders.

There are many disorders in question: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and others. They affect 5.7% of adolescent girls and have very serious implications to the health of the patients. In fact, a girl with bulimia nervosa is around twice as likely to die young, and someone with anorexia nervosa is about 6 times more likely to die young than someone without it. This made eating disorders a target for many scientific researches. And it has been noticed before that situation in some schools is worse than in others.

Now scientists took into account such factors as parental income, whether parents had a history of mental ill health, parental education, the number of siblings and birth weight, and many others, in order to see if school is really an important determinant in the case of eating disorders. It turns out that even having these factors in mind girls in some schools faced a greater risk.

However, the study still cannot explain why some schools are worse in this regard. Dr Helen Bould said that “it might be an unintentional effect of the aspirational culture of some schools that makes eating disorders more likely; it might be that eating disorders are contagious and can spread within a school”, but it also could be that some schools are simply better at noticing disorders early and preventing them.

Furthermore, results cannot be used for studying situation in other states, as Sweden has rather unique school system. There are no one gender schools in Sweden and according to results girls-only schools in this regard would be much worse. Either way, it is important that all schools pay attention to this problem and try to notice it early.

Source: UCL

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