March 15, 2019
3 min read

Eating disorders worsen health, quality of life for teens with diabetes

You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact

Adolescents with diabetes and disordered eating behaviors may be more likely to have higher levels of HbA1c and more depressive symptoms in combination with lower reported quality of life compared with those without disordered eating behaviors, according to findings published in Diabetes Care.

“The etiology of [disordered eating behaviors] in diabetes seems to be multifactorial,” Catherine Pihoker, MD, professor and division chief in the department of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues wrote. “Behaviors and attitudes that are important components of diabetes management, such as dietary restraint and counting carbohydrates, may place an unhealthy emphasis on food intake that results in dysregulated eating patterns.”

Pihoker and colleagues conducted analysis based on data from the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth study, which recruited children, adolescents and young adults who were diagnosed with diabetes before age 20 years at five sites in the United States. For the study by Pihoker and colleagues, all participants were diagnosed after age 10 years, between 2002 and 2008. There were 2,156 participants with type 1 diabetes (mean age, 17.7 years; 50% female) and 149 with type 2 diabetes (mean age, 21.8 years; 64% female).

A 16-item questionnaire was used to determine the degree to which a participant had disordered eating behaviors, with a score of 20 established as the minimum needed to confirm the condition. Participants also completed the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory scale to establish measures of depressive symptoms and quality of life, respectively.

The researchers found that 21.2% of the participants with type 1 diabetes and 50.3% of those with type 2 diabetes had disordered eating behaviors, with the highest percentage in those aged 15 to 19 years in both groups (24.9% and 67.8%, respectively). The researchers further noted a higher proportion of girls in the group of participants with type 1 diabetes and disordered eating behaviors (71.2%) and the group with type 2 diabetes and disordered eating behaviors (68%).

BMI z scores were higher for participants with disordered eating behaviors than those without them, including those who reported behaviors such as insulin restriction (P = .03), skipping meals (P < .01), binge eating (P < .01) and self-induced vomiting (P = .04), according to the study. Insulin sensitivity scores were lower for those with disordered eating behaviors, including insulin restriction, skipping meals, binge eating and self-induced vomiting (P < .01 for each comparison).


Disordered eating behaviors were linked to higher HbA1c levels for participants with type 1 diabetes and those with type 2 diabetes (P < .001 for each comparison) compared with those who did not have such behaviors, the researchers wrote. Participants with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes and disordered eating behaviors also had higher scores for depressive symptoms (P < .01) and lower scores for quality of life (P < .01) than those without.

“Youth and young adults who are overweight or obese may desire to lose weight, which may result in a negative body image, dieting and [disordered eating behaviors],” the researchers wrote. “Overweight and obese youth and young adults with diabetes are commonly counseled to reduce their weight, at which time health care professionals should query for, identify and address [disordered eating behaviors].” – by Phil Neuffer

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.