Doctors treating youths with eating disorders may be neglecting to diagnose accompanying self-injurious behavior such as cutting, a new Stanford University and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital study indicates.
Researchers found not only that 40.8 percent of eating-disorder patients in their study also practiced self-harm (most often through skin cutting and burning) but also that health-care providers may be neglecting to ask patients about self-injurious actions, indicating there may be a higher correlation between eating disorders and self-injurious behavior than previously realized.
"We ask 97 percent of children 12 years and up if they smoke cigarettes; we need to get that good with screening for self-injurious behavior," the study's leader, Rebecca Peebles, stated in a press release.
According to Peebles, patients are not likely to discuss the behavior unless asked, and fewer than half of the charts in their study showed that clinicians had discussed self-harming behavior with patients.
"In clinical practice, kids are fairly open when you engage with them. They'll come in wearing long sleeves, or hiding the marks on their inner thighs. But then when you ask them, they are usually willing to discuss the behavior," she said.
The press release added that all new patients at Lucile Packard Children's hospital's eating-disorder program are now questioned about self-injurious activities, which may be engaged in by between 13 and 40 percent of all adolescents and are associated with a higher suicide risk.
The study was published Sept. 28 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.