Title : Screening school children for eating disorders: A missed opportunity
A review of literature indicates research has been conducted on eating disorders for several decades and in several countries. Publications can be found as early as 1949 in the United States, with evidence of research conducted worldwide in countries such as Hungry, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, France, Canada, Australia, China, Japan and Spain. Despite international research, the illusive prevalence of eating disorders is still difficult to determine. In the United States, eating disorders are not a mandated reportable disease, so statistics are gathered from individuals who are willing to admit to the disease. Research however, conclusively indicates treatment success depends on early disease identification. Anorexia in particular, poses an increase risk to individuals, with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Current literature identifies the age of onset between 10-20 years, indicating eating disorders have become more prevalent in high schools, middle schools, and even in elementary schools. Since the late 1990’s, research recommendations included the need for development of school base prevention programs and simplified screening tools to identify children at risk. School-based screening programs can be very effective in early detection of eating disorder symptoms in children and adolescents.The SCOFF screening tool developed in England and tested internationally has shown its reliability to accurately identify individuals at risk of developing an eating disorder. Despite research validating screening tools, and evidence base practice in support of school based screening programs, there are currently no mandated screenings programs for eating disorders. The lack of school based screening programs is a missed opportunity for early identification, referral for treatment, and avoidance of life threatening physical complications of eating disorders in children.
Audience Take Away:
• Early detection of an eating disorder is crucial to the individual’s successful recovery.
• Physical symptoms typically are not apparent until the individual has already perpetuated the cycle of negative thoughts and developed maladaptive behaviors, making early detection difficult.
• The SCOFF Questionnaire has been proven to be a valid and reliable screening tool in detecting the prevalence of an eating disorder in high-risk groups, individuals, and especially adolescents.
• School Nurses can use the SCOFF to screen for eating disorders when conducting mandated health screenings.
• Nurse Practitioners serve as primary providers for many adolescents and can play a key role in early identification by screening using the SCOFF Questionnaire.
• Practitioners can initiate outpatient treatment for individuals at risk, which may prevent costly hospital admissions for primary and secondary complications of eating disorders.