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Eating Disorders in Teens with ADHD: Red Flags and Recovery Steps

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Eating disorders disproportionately impact teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 12 – and we don’t fully understand why.

A growing body of research links ADHD to a higher incidence of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder during puberty and adolescence – a time when a mix of factors, including social media use, can contribute to negative body image and low-self-esteem.

New studies also show that the pandemic triggered eating disorders among teens and worsened symptoms for those with existing eating disorders.34We are just beginning to understand how ADHD influences the development of eating disorders and disordered eating in teens, however it stands to reason that the low self-esteem associated with ADHD, particularly when undiagnosed, could be at least partially to blame, among other ADHD-related factors.Regardless of root cause, eating disorders are serious but treatable conditions.

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[Self-Test] Eating Disorders in Children and Teens
Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge-eating disorder (BED) typically begin in adolescence, but they are increasingly seen in younger children.Researchers have linked the rise of eating disorders in children and teens to the pandemic and the ongoing youth mental health crisis, among other stressors.12Social media may also play a role in driving body image dissatisfaction and negative comparison among teens.3 What’s more, children and teens with conditions like anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at greater risk for developing eating disorders.4 ,5Eating disorders are complex but treatable conditions. Early detection greatly improves recovery and health outcomes.If you are concerned that your child is showing signs of an eating disorder like AN, BN, or BED, answer the questions below and share the results with your child’s pediatrician or a licensed mental health professional who is experienced in diagnosing and treating eating disorders.If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) for support, resources, and treatment options. Call or text NEDA at 800-931-2237 or visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org to reach a NEDA volunteer.This self-test was adapted from materials provided in “Identification and Management of Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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