Childhood Eating Disorders on the Rise

Hospitalizations for eating disorders for children under age 12 increased nearly 120 percent between 1999 and 2006, a new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has found.  Ongoing emphasis on the childhood obesity epidemic may be an unintended cause of the problem, as reports:

Children will come in to her office already showing signs of malnutrition, dietician Page Love says. They often have low energy levels and low iron counts and are reporting hair loss because of their extreme weight loss….

Dina Zeckhausen is a psychologist and founder of the Eating Disorder Information Network. She sees kids in third and fourth grade who are already worried about being fat.

“There is so much emphasis on obesity,” Zeckhausen said, “that there’s a danger that we are going to produce a lot of anxieties in kids around weight.”

Zeckhausen says that starting overweight kids on diets can trigger an obsession with food that could lead to an eating disorder. She recommends putting overweight children in a sport or becoming more active as a family and providing healthier food options.

Children at risk of an eating disorder share similar personality traits: high anxiety, perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, according to Zeckhausen. They are also often subject to external pressures such as school bullying, abuse or a divorce. Restricting food intake is a way for a child to feel in control of their life.

“The eating disorder is the voice,” said Love. “The eating disorder is a way to communicate (and say) ‘I’m struggling. I’m hurt. I need help.’ “

Image: Girl refusing fruit, via Shutterstock

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  1. [...] On the flip side, lunch report cards could be just another headache for students and educators. With the length of school lunch shrinking across the country, kids are expected to shovel in a healthy meal and enjoy some free time with their friends in 20 minutes or less. Giving a report of what’s going down (kids’ throats) during this time seems like an unnecessary source of stress during students’ time to relax. This scrutiny on every item kids put on their trays or in their mouths might also spark eating disorders, which are already on the rise. [...]