Posts Tagged ‘ eating disorders ’

Anorexic Girls Often Display Autistic Traits

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Girls who suffer from the eating disorder anorexia often exhibit some traits and behaviors that are similar to those who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to research by Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre.  The anorexic girls, Cohen found, suffered an above average number of autistic traits.  More from Reuters:

They were also found to have an above-average interest in systems and order, and below-average scores in empathy – a profile similar, but less pronounced, to that seen in people with autism, suggesting the two disorders may have common underlying features, Baron-Cohen said.

“Traditionally, anorexia has been viewed purely as an eating disorder. This is quite reasonable, since the girls’ dangerously low weight and their risk of malnutrition or even death has to be the highest priority,” he said.

“But this new research is suggesting that underlying the surface behavior, the mind of a person with anorexia may share a lot with the mind of a person with autism. In both conditions, there is a strong interest in systems. In girls with anorexia, they have latched onto a system that concerns body weight, shape, and food intake.”

People with autism have varying levels of impairment across three main areas – social interaction and empathy or understanding, repetitive behavior and interests, and language and communication.

Cohen noted that autism and anorexia share certain features, such as rigid attitudes and behaviors, a tendency to be very self-focused, and a fascination with detail. Both disorders also share similar differences in the structure and function of brain regions involved in social perception.

The findings, researchers say, could help in the development of new treatments for anorexia.

Image: Anorexia sign, via Shutterstock

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Childhood Eating Disorders on the Rise

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

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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‘Anna Rexia’ Halloween Costume Enrages Parents, Experts

Friday, October 7th, 2011

A Halloween costume comprised of a skin-tight dress with glittery bones on it to indicate anorexia is causing an Internet stir as parents and eating disorder experts express dismay at the idea of making light of a disease that affects up to 10 million American women, and is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate.

The “Anna Rexia” costume, which also comes with a waist tape measure, has been pulled from many costume shops–more as the negative reaction spreads– and it has been discontinued by its manufacturer, Dreamgirl.  But it is still for sale by a few costume vendors and online shops.

“We understand that some people will not find the dark humor funny,” Alicia Brockwell, Dreamgirl’s marketing director, told, “Halloween is an eccentric and irreverent holiday for people to express themselves in a myriad of ways. While some people may not like a particular costume – it is a matter of taste and personal discretion.”

Eating disorder experts are not amused.

“There is absolutely nothing funny about anorexia,” Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, told CNN. “If you saw an 8-year-old kid on a feeding tube you’d be surprised. Anorexia is not a choice – at all.”

“Eating disorders are mental and the consequences are physical.” she continued, pointing out that related health issues can include early osteoporosis, kidney failure, digestive system ailments, renal disease, and more. “If you’re not feeding yourself, you’re not feeding your brain and your body – and your body needs the fuel.”

Grefe urged anyone who is concerned about eating disorders to call 800-931-2237 or visit

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Children’s Diet Book Raises Controversy

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

In October, a children’s book called Maggie Goes on a Diet will be self-published by author Paul Kramer.  The blurb describing the book on reads, “This book is about a 14 year old girl who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.”

Amazon’s comment boards had more than 150 posts on the book, mostly decrying the notion of a diet-themed storybook listed as intended for children aged 4 to 8. “It takes so little to trigger eating disorders in children and teenagers and this could be such a huge trigger,” said one commenter.

Others welcomed the book as a potentially healthy message for children, with The Los Angeles Times calling it “the sensible way” to teach children about weight loss.

Laura Stampler, a columnist for The Huffington Post, wrote an opinion piece that draws on both obesity and eating disorder statistics in the US:

Teaching kids to make healthy lifestyle choices from an early age is a worthy endeavor (one that first lady Michelle Obama has taken on as her own), and childhood obesity is a serious public health issue nationwide. According to the CDC, approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese in the United States, over triple the rate a generation ago.

But Maggie isn’t looking at an imagined reflection of herself dominating the soccer field. For this little girl, it’s all about the dress. The book is promoting skinny first, with a side of healthy slipped in later.

Just as childhood obesity is on the rise, eating disorder rates are climbing, and affecting younger and younger kids. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported a 199 percent increase in the number of eating disorder-related hospitalizations for children under the age of 12 between 1999 and 2006. A 2011 study found that nearly one in 60 adolescents has anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. Over half of little girls aged 3 to 6 think they are fat.

(image via:

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Trend: Eating Disorders Striking Younger Children

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

The number of young teenagers and “tweens” affected by clinical eating disorders or more general “disordered eating” is rising in America, a number of new studies show. reports on the trend:

Once considered a risk only for wealthy, high-achieving teenage girls, eating disorders such as anorexia (and, more rarely, bulimia) are becoming increasingly common among children, even little boys.

“In the last two years, we’ve actually had to add a treatment track to deal with kids ages 9 to 11,” says Margaret Kelley, clinical nurse manager for the eating disorders treatment program at The Children’s Hospital in Denver. “And we’re getting many more boys. We used to see one or two a year at most, but we’ve almost always got one or two boys in the program now.”

The average age for the onset of anorexia used to be 13 to 17. Now it’s 9 to 12, and children as young as 7 have been diagnosed, says Abigail Natenshon, a psychotherapist and author of “When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder.”

No one knows how many preteens are affected today, though 5% of adolescents are affected. What is known is that at least 10% of adult anorexics first showed clear symptoms of the condition before they were 10 years old — and kids growing up today may be even more vulnerable.

More than 60% of elementary and middle school teachers reported that eating disorders are a problem in their schools, according to a study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

The vast majority of kids in this country don’t have an eating disorder and will probably never develop one. But experts are concerned about the rise in nearly epidemic proportions of “disordered eating” — a pattern of dieting or calorie restriction that’s unhealthy and a known trigger for eating disorders. Some troubling statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association:

– 42% of kids in first through third grades wish they were thinner

– 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of becoming fat

– 51% of 9- and 10-year-old girls say they feel better about themselves when they are on a diet

Numbers like these are red flags for experts. And perhaps the most worrisome news is that it’s not just overweight kids who are restricting calories.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, significant numbers of normal-weight and underweight kids are also dieting: 16% of girls ages 8 to 11, and 19% of girls ages 12 to 15. The numbers are slightly lower for boys, though these, too, are rising.

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