Adolescents and Eating Disorder Risk: What Does Research Show?

Parents involved with re-feeding in eating disorder recovery

Eating disorders affect countless individuals across the age spectrum. There is often a misunderstanding about what causes eating disorders and what makes a person susceptible to developing these diseases. However, the risk of eating disorders in adolescents seem to be too high.

Research has helped give a greater understanding about the nature of eating disorders as well as shed light on the population groups that may be at increased risk. Some of the factors that may contribute to eating disorder include a genetic component, neurobiology and environmental factors.

The Connection with Mental Health Illness

Adolescents that are at risk for developing an eating disorder typically have a biological predisposition for these mental health illnesses. An adolescent with this biological component will be more susceptible to environmental triggers, such as any form of trauma, abuse, bullying, and dieting influences that may be projected by the media.

We live in a society and culture that is saturated with unrealistic images and the message that thinner is that better, and this can influence destructive thinking about oneself. However, this is not the only factor that can contribute to the development of eating disorders in adolescents, as not every adolescent exposed to these environmental triggers will develop an eating disorder.

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The Biological Component of Eating Disorder in Adolescents

Research has shown and demonstrated the strong biological component associated with eating disorder risk. This will single-handedly increase the chances that an adolescent will develop an eating disorder.

Three young girls struggling with Eating Disorder in AdolescentsMany myths and stigmas surround eating disorders in adolescents, with the idea that adolescents who have these illnesses are ones who have fallen victim to an overpowered media and distorted body images.

It is also thought that eating disorders are diseases of “vanity”, in which an adolescent may want to be thinner or look different to be accepted by peers.

Breaking the Stigmas of Eating Disorders

Breaking these stigmas with objective facts that are being discovered by research is essential to moving forward with treatment, as well as lifting the shame that adolescents may feel in their struggle with these severe mental health illnesses.

As eating disorders in adolescents ranks the third most chronic mental illness, facts are needed to address anorexia and other eating disorders that can be fatal among our youth [1].


1. Public Health Service’s Office in Women’s Health, Eating Disorders Information Sheet, 2000.

Crystal Headshot 2Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing,

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed And Updated By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 6, 2019.
Published July 28, 2015, on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.