January 17, 2006

Schoolgirls Face Bulimia Crisis

Schoolgirls face bulimia crisis
18 January 2006

Bulimic schoolgirls are vomiting in groups, a new trend prompting concerns the behaviour of popular teenage stars may be to blame.

Concern over growing numbers of students with eating disorders has prompted at least one school, Nelson College for Girls, to introduce a tough new regime with parents asked to vouch for their children's food consumption before they are allowed to attend school.

Bulimia has regained prominence as the disease of the famous, with many young stars, such as Lindsay Lohan, admitting to suffering from it, and American Idol judge Paula Abdul becoming a spokeswoman for the anti-bulimia cause.

This week, Dolly magazine reported that starlets Nichole Richie and Lohan were in a "skinny pact" and planned their diets together. Richie reportedly weighs less than 45kg.

The clinical head of the South Island Eating Disorders Service, Dr Geoffrey Buckett, said he was horrified to find, when interviewing a group of Christchurch students recently, that joint vomiting sessions were accepted or in some cases considered normal by teenage bulimics. He said three Christchurch students told him: "We go around behind the sheds in groups of 10 of us and drink milk and throw up." Skipping lunch and dinner before going out on a date or with friends "so your belly doesn't show" was another example of dysfunctional eating habits considered normal by many schoolgirls.

Buckett said the emergence of group vomiting sessions was an indication of how entrenched eating disorders had become, particularly in schools.

The growing gap between increasingly obese New Zealanders and ideals promoted by the current crop of super-thin Hollywood celebrities may be contributing to the problem. "If you look at talk shows like Oprah Winfrey, eating disorders and always being on a diet are staple subjects being discussed," Buckett said.

Nelson College for Girls had the worst incidence of students with eating disorders in the South Island and last year developed a rigid programme to deal with the problem, he said. Girls were allowed at school only if their parents signed a form saying their child had eaten breakfast, and students had to leave school if they did not eat lunch, he said. Nelson College for Girls principal Alison McAlpine was not available for comment yesterday, but a school spokeswoman said the school had run a successful programme aimed at combating eating disorders among students.

Bulimics binge-eat and then, to prevent weight gain, compensate by vomiting, misuse of laxatives and diuretics, fasting or excessive exercise. One in 20 18 to 24-year-olds has had bulimia at some time.

Buckett said psychologists needed to create an individual plan for schools with particular problems, depending on the number of students involved and their specific eating disorders. About 2400 new cases of anorexia or bulimia were diagnosed every year, and more than twice this number would fall under the category of "non-specific eating disorders", he said.

The Press yesterday spoke to eight teenage girls, all of whom had either suffered from an eating disorder or knew someone who had. None of the girls had been involved in group vomiting sessions. "That's just sick," said one teenager. "There was this fat chick at my school and she was always going around telling people she was throwing up, and I reckon it was to get sympathy," said a 17-year-old, who had bulimia when she was at intermediate school. A 15-year-old said she had bulimia last year, and confided in her mother because she was ashamed.

Canterbury-Westland Secondary School Principals' Association chairwoman Linda Tame said school staff were always vigilant for eating disorders among students. "If that is happening (vomiting in groups), then it is a very upsetting thing," she said. Bulimia commonly begins in the teens, although cases have been recorded in children as young as six.

An obsession or new focus on dieting or specific food regimes.
Secretive eating behaviour.
Going to the toilet straight after meals.
Becoming withdrawn or depressed.
Information is available at www.eatingdisorders.org.nz/


  1. The overall tone of this article sort of bugged me, in a way I can't put into words, but what I do agree with is that they definitely need to put programs into place in schools to help kids deal with body image issues and to catch EDs either before they happen or very early on, to give these kids a chance for a different life.

  2. It TOTALLY bugged me L!

    "Bulimics binge-eat and then, to prevent weight gain, compensate by vomiting, misuse of laxatives and diuretics, fasting or excessive exercise."

    Okay, that's not why I threw up! I'm so sick of all the misinformation about Bulimia!!!! (insert stomping of feet, arms being thrown up in the air and giant sigh of disgust).

    I agree it's a good thing to get kids early on, but lets get them early on, with the correct information.

    People just don't get it. Something significant like a film that really portrays what we all go through, needs to be put out there. The only way it would really catch anyone's eye is if someone ultra famous took it on as a project and/or it won Oscars. We're doomed.


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