SCMP Thursday, November 8, 2001

Girl, 10, among victims as young hit by anorexia


Anorexia is surfacing in Hong Kong patients at younger ages, with one 10-year-old girl being treated and the average age of first-time victims of the slimming disease falling two years to less than 16.
The outcome of a nine-year study of 88 patients treated at Prince of Wales Hospital and the Chinese University's eating disorder centre also found the mortality rate of anorexia sufferers was 10 times higher than that of non-anorexics the same age.
The joint study by the Chinese University and the Tufts University in Boston, the biggest of its kind in Asia, was carried out on patients treated between May 1984 and July last year.
The findings showed although only three patients - or 3.4 per cent - had died, the death rate was 10 times higher than normal for their age groups, said Chinese University psychiatry professor Dr Lee Sing, the leader of the research project. Two of the patients who died committed suicide while the other died of emaciation.
In addition, nearly 54 per cent of patients attempted suicide or became self-destructive.
In the past, local patients on average developed the eating disorder at 7-3/4 years - comparable with western countries such as the United States 15 years ago.
However, Dr Lee said more recent patients were two years younger on average than those in the findings. His youngest patient now is a 10-year-old girl.
''This is a study on patients who developed anorexia nine years ago. It does not reflect the latest trends. The latest trend suggests patients seeking medical help are getting younger - about two years compared with 10 years ago,'' he said.
Dr Lee said the growing trend for slim figures was one of the main factors promoting anorexia in the young. Other factors linked to the eating disorder included school pressure and family problems.
''Every day we can see supermodels in advertisements in magazines, newspapers and on television. Those advertisements may not necessarily be related to dieting they may be for mobile phones or beer. But the actresses and movie stars are slim in general. So the audience takes it for granted that being slim is good. Slim people are efficient, beautiful and welcomed. To be fat means you are lazy, inefficient and eat too much,'' Dr Lee said.
Dr Wong Yuen-yee of the Department of Diagnostics, Radiology and Organ Imaging at Prince of Wales Hospital warned that anorexia could retard growth during puberty.
Patients also suffered other health hazards including weak bones, with X-rays showing calcium loss could reach up to 50 per cent in some patients, Dr Wong said.
Dr Lee warned that anorexia not only posed a health risk, but also affected relationships.
Although the patients in the study had now reached an average age of 27, 80 per cent were unmarried and 92.5 per cent did not have children.
Dr Lee warned that patients who developed anorexia more than six years before they sought medical help would have more problems.