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Binge-Eating Teens More Likely to Use Drugs, Study Finds

Binge-eating adolescents are more likely to use marijuana and other drugs and become depressed, according to a study that suggests doctors be aware of their teen patients eating habits to help avert these issues.

Teens and young adults who reported being binge-eaters or overeaters were almost twice as likely to start using marijuana than those without the eating disorder, research published today in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found. Binge eaters and overeaters were 1.59 to 1.89 times more likely to use other drugs, researchers said.

People who binge eat can be more impulsive, a trait that may lead them to drug use, said Kendrin Sonneville, the study’s lead author and director of nutrition training in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. More research is needed to look at how to better identify and treat kids who overeat or binge eat, she said.

“We don’t need to only worry about the eating habits of overweight and obese youth,” Sonneville, who is also an instructor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said in a Dec. 7 telephone interview. “Overeating and binge eating can be problematic for all youth. We should be cognizant of the eating habits of all youth separate from their weight.”

The study focused on 16,882 boys and girls ages 9 to 15 in 1996. They were given questionnaires every 12 to 24 months from 1996 to 2005 to assess their eating.

Girls were more likely to engage in binge eating, while boys were more likely to overeat, the study found.

Those who engaged in binge eating were more likely to be overweight or obese and have symptoms of depression, while overeating didn’t have the same associations, the authors said. Neither form of eating was associated with starting binge drinking. Binge drinking is common among all types of teens so any association may disappear because many teens are engaging in the behavior, Sonneville said.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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