Anorexia plagues 2 percent of female high school seniors and 10 percent are at risk of developing the dangerous eating disorder, according to a health ministry survey made available Thursday.

The survey was the first of its kind in Japan. It was conducted in fiscal 2002 for the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry by Hisako Watanabe, an expert in pediatric psychiatry and a lecturer at Keio University’s school of medicine.

The group that compiled the report underscored the importance of detecting the eating disorder early during school medical checkups and to start treatment immediately, because anorexia in adolescent girls can lead to infertility and other health problems — as well as death, it said.

“Dieting by those under 20 is very harmful to their bodies, more so than smoking or drinking alcohol,” Watanabe said. “Parents and teachers should have heart-to-heart talks (with such kids) and get them out of such a habit.” He added that anorexia, like cancer, is a disease that is difficult to treat successfully once it progresses.

According to the survey, 5.5 percent of those polled were underweight when they were in their first year of high school, but this figure increased to 13.2 percent by the time they were in their final year.

Only 0.6 percent of those surveyed were diagnosed as anorexic by doctors. However, of those who had not been treated by a physician, 1.7 percent were believed to be suffering from anorexia because they exhibited such symptoms as drastic weight loss and abnormal eating habits, and had ceased menstruating.

Anorexia, along with bulimia, is one of the major eating disorders found in adolescent girls and is believed to be induced by excessive stress. Some surveys have shown that 10 percent to 20 percent of adolescent sufferers eventually die because the disorder leads their stomachs to contract and not accept food.

The situation is often exacerbated when sufferers do not realize they are anorexic, often pointing to friends whom they say are slimmer than they are.

Experts say that this is partly due to a “diet high,” which is brought about as the brain secretes a certain druglike substance when the body is in a state of hunger.

The survey covered 1,409 juniors and seniors at 15 high schools. It tracked their height and weight from the first year in elementary school to the second and third years of high school.

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