Thursday 19 April 2018

Pupils in all-girls schools more likely to suffer from Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia

Teenage schoolgirls in all girls schools are more likely to develop eating disorders than their counterparts in mixed schools
Teenage schoolgirls in all girls schools are more likely to develop eating disorders than their counterparts in mixed schools
Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

Anorexia is more prevalent in girls’ schools and pupils in single sex schools are twice as likely to battle the disorder than their mixed school peers, according to new research.

Researchers from Oxford University found that single-sex schools prompt a culture of perfectionism, which they suggested helped conditions such as Anorexia and Bulimia to spread.

The research involved more than 55,000 Swedish pupils who finished secondary school between 2002 and 2010 and found that 2.4pc of the girls studied suffered from an eating disorder.

Yet, the figures varied depending on the type of school pupils attended and the background of the students.

Pupils from well-educated families who went to all-girls schools had more frequent occurrences of eating disorders than students from less-educated backgrounds who went to mixed schools.

The research suggested that girls can develop eating disorders after witnessing behaviour in their peers.

The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found that in all-girls schools, the number of pupils suffering from eating disorders was 3.3pc, while in mixed schools the number suffering from eating disorders was lower at 1.3pc.

"These results suggest that female students at fee-paying or selective schools are more likely to have a diagnosed eating disorder, particularly if the schools are single-sex," they wrote.

Lead author Dr Helen Bould, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Oxford said: “It might be an unintentional effect of the aspirational culture of some schools that makes eating disorders more likely; it might be that eating disorders are contagious and can spread within a school. On the other hand, it could be that some schools are better than others at identifying eating disorders in their students and ensuring they get diagnosed and treated,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of Irish Eating Disorder Support Network Bodywhys, Psychotherapist Harriet Parsons said Irish research doesn't reflect that attending a same sex school impacts the likelihood of an eating disorder.

"Our experience wouldn't be that attending a same-sex school could be a contributing factor in developing an eating disorder.

"Certainly those who develop eating disorders often have traits which see them strive for a sense of perfectionism and place an emphasis on it so it is interesting to see that the study suggests that being in a school that places emphasis on achievements and coming from a family of high-achievers might be a contributing factor.

"Our experience at BodyWhys has been that our services are being sought out by more and more boys schools and mixed schools, to help young Irish men suffering from eating disorders. It's not just a female problem."

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