In the United States today, approximately one to two percent of adolescents struggle with an eating disorder. These teens may severely restrict their food intake, binge on food on a regular basis, or purge what they have eaten in an attempt to avoid resultant weight gain. These behaviors stem primarily from a dissatisfaction with one's body shape, an attitude that has become prevalent among even young children.
Statistics show that 40 to 60 percent of girls aged 6 to 12 feel concern about becoming overweight. Many of these girls watch what they eat and adopt a fitness regimen, but for some, these behaviors intensify to extreme levels. The medical and psychological professions do not yet know what factors tip the balance in such situations, but case reports suggest that mental health history and contributing social factors may play a role.
Adolescents with an individual or family history of depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder may be more likely to develop an eating disorder. Others may be vulnerable to the societal demands for a trim body, while others become overwhelmed by social or academic pressures. Eating disorders may partially arise in response to such pressures and to the natural need for control over oneself, though the ultimate contributing factor is a biochemical change in the way the brain works.