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The study found that people with anorexia nervosa were five times more likely to die early than those in the general population. Most of the deaths among people with anorexia, which involves a low body weight and an intense fear of gaining weight, were due to natural causes associated with the disorder. Suicide was the leading cause of non-natural death.
People with bulimia nervosa, which usually involves binge-eating and purging, and other types of eating disorders also had higher-than-normal death rates, but not as high as those with anorexia, the investigators said.
Risk factors for premature death among people with eating disorders included a high number of hospitalizations for the disorder, being discharged from a hospital program too soon, developing an eating disorder at an older age, poor social adjustment and lower body mass index (BMI) at the time of hospitalization. BMI is an estimate of body fat based on weight and height.
The study, published online recently in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, shows that "there is still a desperate need to develop more effective treatments for eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa," lead author Dr. Manfred Fichter said in a journal news release.
The findings were part of a larger eating disorders study conducted in Germany.
Fichter and his colleagues said suicide is a major concern among people with eating disorders and requires the close attention of health care providers.
The link between early discharge from treatment and increased death risk highlights the need to maintain and support patients during the treatment process, the study authors added.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: International Journal of Eating Disorders, news release, Jan. 21, 2016