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Study Focus on the Need for Vigilance in Two Key Areas Among Adolescents

Parenting a child with an eating disorder - monitoring meals, friends and activities - can be a full-time job. But two new studies from researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine// and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital indicate a need for increased vigilance in two key areas: Internet use among adolescents with the condition, and pre-teen weight loss in seemingly healthy children.

One study, to be published in the December issue of Pediatrics, is the first to confirm that pro-eating disorder Web sites may promote dangerous behaviors in adolescents with eating disorders. The second, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, indicates that pre-teens with eating disorders tend to lose weight more quickly than adolescents with the condition and weigh comparatively less at diagnosis. Packard Children's adolescent medicine and eating disorder specialist Rebecka Peebles, MD, and Jenny Wilson, a Stanford medical student, collaborated on both studies.

"If parents wouldn't let their kids go out to dinner or talk on the phone with someone they don't know, they should ask themselves what their child might be up to on the computer," Peebles, a medical school pediatrics instructor, said of the findings in the first study. She pointed out that, unlike adults, teens make few distinctions between "real" friends and people they know only online.

In this study, Peebles and Wilson surveyed families of patients who were diagnosed at Packard Children's with an eating disorder between 1997 and 2004. Seventy-six patients, who were between the ages of 10 and 22 at diagnosis, and 106 parents returned an anonymous survey asking about Internet use - including parental restrictions on it - and health outcomes.

About half of the patients surveyed said they had visited Web sites about eating disorders. Ninety-six percent of teens who visited pro-eating disorder Web sites reported learning new dieting an
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