Can Just Five Questions Identify Adolescents With Binge Eating Disorder?

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Identifying binge eating disorder (BED) in adolescents is a difficult process. Since most diagnostic tools are designed for adults, doctors have to rely on questions that can be irrelevant or confusing to younger patients and provide little useful information for doctors to make a diagnosis. Obesity can be a sign of the eating disorder in younger patients, but it may also be entirely unrelated to binge eating disorder.

Thankfully, new research published in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests a survey called the Adolescent Binge Eating Questionnaire may be a useful tool to screen at risk children – particularly those who are obese.

To test the questionnaire, Catherine Chamay-Weber and colleagues from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, recruited 94 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 from the Pediatric Obesity Care Center of Geneva University Hospitals. All the adolescents were above the 97th percentile based on body mass index and almost 60% were female.

First, the children were asked to complete the questionnaire before being assessed and interviewed by research psychologists who did not have access to the results of the questionnaires.

According to the findings, the results of the survey were highly indicative of how likely a child was to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder in the study.

“The risk of having a diagnosis of BED was significantly associated with the number of positive answers,” the investigators wrote.

However, five specific questions from the survey showed to be the most effective for screening adolescents with the eating disorder.

The first two questions were designed to filter out participants who almost certainly did not have BED. They asked participants whether they eat in the absence of hunger or after satiation, and whether they felt a lack of control while eating.

None of the participants who answered no to both of these questions were diagnosed with binge eating disorder by the research psychologists and only two were diagnosed with subclinical BED. However, these questions alone are not enough to determine whether an adolescent has binge eating disorder.

“Indeed, many adolescents without BED have these eating behaviors,” the researchers wrote. “As reported by other studies, adolescents with clinical BED differ from those without binge eating in the fact that this behavior is more frequent, and that they experiment more disturbed eating cognitions and higher emotional distress.”

If a participant answered yes to either of these questions, they were instructed to complete the remaining eight questions in the questionnaire. The full-length survey showed usefulness in evaluating the severity of an eating disorder. Those who responded yes to five or more of the eight questions were diagnosed with binge eating disorder, while subclinical BED was linked to answering yes to an average of 3.8 questions.

Despite this, the researchers say three of the additional eight questions were significantly linked with the highest risk for clinical BED. These questions were about whether participants believed they ate more than others, feel negatively after eating, and how frequently they felt they overate.

Whether these five questions alone can accurately screen for binge eating disorder is debatable. The team says they believe further research is needed to determine if the other questions are ineffective or not necessary for the screening process.

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