Female students who attend gender-exclusive schools could be more at risk of developing an eating disorder, a recent study suggests.
Swedish research found girls who received education at schools comprised predominantly of female students were more susceptible to eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia.
Parents also play a role in their children’s vulnerability as, in girls schools where at least 75% of parents had received a form of higher education, the probability of developing an eating disorder was 3.3%,
This is in stark contrast to ‘conventional’ education environments where students are 50% less likely to be affected by these specific forms of mental health illness.
Records of over 55,000 teenage girls attending schools in Stockholm were examined to uncover these unnerving results.
Whilst the findings were uncovered from Swedish data, the same issue could affect as many as 33 students in the average UK secondary school if the issue travels overseas.
The researchers were keen not to highlight they had not discovered the reasoning behind why girls were more at risk, however.
There are many theories which could be used to explain the results, though these are all currently speculation.
One is that highly educated parents are more likely to notice problems arising in their children and seek medical support which may increase the number diagnoses amongst this group.
Another is the idea that peer pressure and perfectionist culture may be more commonplace in all-girls school, leading to the supposed ‘contagiousness’ commented on by the media.
Regardless of the causes, the study shows that specific environments can intensify the pressure placed on female students and, in worst case scenarios, lead to the development of severe eating disorders.
Disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can have profoundly negative effects on their victims and can lead to the development of anxiety, depression and other detrimental conditions.
It is crucial for schools and parents to not only look for warning signs amongst students but, also, to provide an open and honest medium in which girls can voice their opinions and discuss their issues.
Eating disorders often stem from insecurity which can make it difficult for those suffering to engage in conversation with others about their problems.
Students, regardless of their gender or age, must feel safe in conversing with their peers, teachers and parents otherwise issues in their private life may go unnoticed and become more severe.
Many of these conditions can be difficult to fully recover from and can even lead to health defects later in life such as decreased fertility rates, vitamin deficiencies and the weakening of bones.
Due to the physical repercussions of these conditions and their prevalence within adolescent girls, the issue of eating disorders in schools is one which needs to be addressed.
Encompass is a registered charity which provides professional care services such as respite care and supported living to help improve the lives of people living with mental health illnesses and learning disabilities.
Find out how the Encompass team can help your or a loved one by clicking here.