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Binge Eating in College Students

Posted Sep 26 2008 3:21pm

Due to technical difficulties, I am currently unable to post my follow-up Blog about assessment of body image disturbance. In the interim, I offer you this from the Canadian Press about the increase of binge eating in college students...

Binge-eating triples among university students away from home.

Female students who leave home to attend first-year university or college are significantly more likely to start binge eating than peers who stay home to attend school -- a behavior that puts them at risk for more serious eating disorders in the future, new research suggests.

A study of University of Alberta students found that females in their inaugural year were three times more likely to binge eat if they had left their parents' home to obtain post-secondary education.

As well, female students who reported higher levels of dissatisfaction with their bodies had a three-fold greater risk of binge eating episodes, say the researchers, whose study is published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Lead researcher Erin Barker, who earned her PhD in developmental psychology at the Edmonton-based university, said young women who scored low on social adjustment also were more apt to binge eat.

Perceptions of academic performance did not appear to affect eating habits.

"That could mean lots of different things," Barker explained from Wisconsin's Beloit College, where she now works. "If you move away from home, your social networks are disrupted, your eating patterns are going to be changed if you're living in a residence situation. Your activity and exercise patterns are going to change.

"Bingeing can be seen as a coping mechanism if things aren't going well and [female students] don't have their established social network there to refer to or to help them cope," she said.

The study involved 101 female students at the University of Alberta, who completed a web-based daily checklist of health behaviors for a two week period at some point during the first three months of the fall term.

"It was about a five-minute checklist every night and it included questions about alcohol use, sleeping, eating, socializing, exams -- their daily lives," said Barker. The study did not include male freshmen.

Often, parents assume that when a teenager leaves the nest for higher education, they are entering an exciting new phase of life marked by making friends and having fun, Barker said. But that's not true for every teen, she said. "Keep in mind that there's all these social demands ... that some people may be better able or less able to navigate and negotiate early on and those social problems, especially for young women, might put them at risk for negative health behaviors like eating disorders."

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