Disordered eating behavior may put adolescents at greater risk for both depression and peer bullying, data from a longitudinal study of 612 teens show.
“Questions remain as to whether clinically significant disordered eating behavior is an antecedent or consequent of bullying by peers among adolescent girls and boys,” wrote Kirsty S. Lee, PhD, and Tracy Vaillancourt, PhD, of the University of Ottawa.
In apublished online April 11 in JAMA Psychiatry, the researchers reviewed data on adolescents aged 13-17 years who were enrolled in the McMaster Teen Study, a longitudinal study of Canadian teens examining bullying, academic achievement, and mental health. The average age of the study participants was 13 years; 54% were girls, and 71% were white.
At each annual follow-up during the 5-year study period, bullying was significantly concurrently associated with both disordered eating behavior (such as vomiting after eating) and depressive symptoms (P less than .01). In addition, disordered eating was significantly longitudinally associated with depression at every time point (P less than .02) and with peer bullying at two points (P less than .04) during the 5-year study (grades 8-9 and grades 10-11). However, no longitudinal association appeared between peer bullying and depression.
The participants completed a questionnaire each year between grades 7 and 11. The researchers assessed eating disordered behavior using the Short Screen for Eating Disorders; bullying was assessed by providing the teens with a standard definition of bullying to accompany questions about their experiences. Depression was assessed via the Behavior Assessment System for Children, second edition. A cascade model was used to show the relationships among the factors over time.
“At every time point, adolescent girls reported greater bullying by peers, depressive symptoms, and disordered eating behavior than adolescent boys, except in grade 7 when there were no sex differences in disordered eating behavior,” the researchers noted.
The results were consistent with data from previous cross-sectional studies with regard to the stronger associations in girls vs. boys, the researchers said. However, contrary to previous research, they found no mediating effect of depression on the association between peer bullying and disordered eating behavior, and no longitudinal associations between peer bullying and depression.