Myths and Facts About Eating Disorders in Adolescents

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Eating disorders can affect all people. As many as 30 million people in the U.S. have an eating disorder.

Most eating disorders are mental health illnesses. There are 5 main types:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder

The Facts

  • 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.
  • Eating disorders have the HIGHEST risk of death of any mental illness.
  • Eating disorders affect all genders, all races and every ethnic group.
  • Genetics, environmental factors and personality traits all contribute to the risk of developing an eating disorder.

The Myths

Myth #1:

My child is only affecting their muscle and body fat by not eating.


Eating disorders lead to severe malnutrition that affects nearly every organ in the body.

  • Malnutrition can cause a dangerously low heart rate or abnormal heart rhythm. Your child may feel dizzy, pass out, or the heart could ultimately stop.
  • Your child may have irritability, mood changes and difficulty focusing.
  • Their stomach and intestines may work slower leading to pain, constipation or bloating.
  • Females may stop having periods, which weakens bones. Males may develop low levels of testosterone.
  • Your child may develop anemia, poor immune function and bleeding disorders. Children who haven’t started puberty may have delayed puberty or slow growth.

Myth #2:

Eating disorders are a choice to not eat enough food.


Eating disorders are complex medical and mental illnesses that patients don’t choose.

Myth #3:

I caused my child’s eating disorder.


Eating disorder researchers and clinical experts believe that eating disorders are caused by both environmental and genetic factors. People’s genes put them at risk to develop an eating disorder,and then different social pressures may cause them to develop the disorder.

Myth #4:

Eating disorders only occur in females.


Although eating disorders are more common in females, they can affect anyone, regardless of their gender or sex.

Myth #5:

It is uncommon for a child to have other mental health illnesses besides their eating disorder.


It is very common for people with eating disorders to have other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Myth #6:

You can’t die from an eating disorder.


Eating disorders have the highest rate of death of any psychiatric illness. Up to 20 percent of people with chronic anorexia nervosa will die as a result of their illness if it is not treated.

Myth #7:

Eating disorders are rare.


Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescents after obesity and asthma.

Myth #8:

Once my child gains weight then everything will be back to normal.


It is important to remember that an eating disorder is not just about weight or food. Mental health care is one of the most important parts of your child’s recovery. Your child will need help managing their emotions and thoughts around eating adequate amounts of food. This is why having a mental health provider such as a counselor or a therapist is so important in the treatment of eating disorders.

Myth #9:

My child will never recover from an eating disorder.


With treatment, 60 percent of eating disorder patients will make a full recovery. You can help your child succeed by providing love and support, and by ensuring they have a proper treatment team that includes an experienced physician, a registered dietitian and a mental health provider.

Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

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Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, offers adolescent and young adult specialty care for patients at all stages and support the transition from childhood to adulthood. Including specialized care for the physical, mental and social well-being of adolescents and young adults.

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