Research connects stress with disordered eating habits

A University of Minnesota study released Monday found a link between stressful life events and eating disorder behaviors. According to the study, 32 percent of women and 20 percent of men who had three or more âÄústressful life eventsâÄù also had eating disorder behaviors. The study is part of Project EAT in the UniversityâÄôs Epidemiology and Community Health division, which looks at eating habits of adolescents in different situations. This study compared âÄústressful life eventsâÄù among adolescents and young adults with the prevalence of eating disorder habits among them. Stressors can include a severe automobile accident, credit card debt or the death of a loved one. Katie Loth, the studyâÄôs lead author, said people who work with teenagers and adolescents arenâÄôt always in touch with various stressors in their lives. âÄúPeople are always aware of these life events, whereas theyâÄôre not always aware of how people are coping with them,âÄù she said. Loth said she hopes the findings in this study will raise awareness to parents and others who work with adolescents. âÄúI think that what this study emphasizes is the importance for those individuals to really get in touch with that teen and figure out what theyâÄôre doing to help cope with the stress theyâÄôve been experiencing,âÄù she said. Alumna Jillian Croll, who was a graduate student when data for Project EAT was collected, is now a dietician for the Emily Program , a Twin Cities-based program that helps people with eating disorders. Croll said she commonly works with college students, since one of their program locations is a few blocks from the St. Paul campus. She said the study results arenâÄôt surprising, they are eye-opening. âÄúI think the main thing [from this study] is that there are a lot more people who struggle with eating disorder behaviors than we realize,âÄù she said. Croll also said sheâÄôs not surprised to see that most people who come in to get treatment have multiple stressors. âÄúItâÄôs not a new idea, but it reinforces what we see clinically every day,âÄù she said. âÄúIt helps to put it in perspective that makes sense people who donâÄôt do this every day.âÄù Project EAT first collected data in 1998 and are still collecting data to continue research on adolescent eating habits. Nicole Larson , the programâÄôs director, started working with the program in 2001 when she was a graduate student working on her masterâÄôs degree. She said theyâÄôre still working on research. âÄúMy job is to work on the next wave of the study,âÄù she said. âÄúPeople are still collecting data and looking at different things.âÄù