Young adults may be waiting too long to seek help for eating disorders, a new study suggests.
Researchers surveyed 300 young adults, ages 18-25, in Australia. They found the majority had eating, weight or body shape concerns.
"Concerningly, only a minority of people with eating disorder symptoms had sought professional help and few believed they needed help despite the problems they were experiencing," said study co-author Dan Fassnacht. He's a psychology lecturer at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia.
Reasons for not getting professional care include denial, concerns about losing control of their eating or weight, and not understanding the severity of their eating disorder.
Feeling embarrassed or fearing that others don't believe eating disorders are real illnesses even prevented young adults with symptoms of anorexia or bulimia from seeking help, Fassnacht said in a university news release. Both are potentially life-threatening conditions.
Concern for others and the belief that you should solve your own problems were the two most common reasons for not seeking help for eating problems.
"Not wanting others to worry about their problems was the highest endorsed barrier -- it reflects the wish for autonomy and also the fear of being a burden to others in this group of young adults," said study first author Kathina Ali, a research associate in psychology at Flinders.
Doctors, counselors and other health care professionals -- as well as the general public -- need to know why people don't seek help for eating disorders, according to the study authors.
They said young adults should be provided with more information about the severity and impact of eating disorders, how symptoms can get worse without treatment, and the importance of seeking help and learning self-management strategies.
The findings were published recently in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on eating disorders.