Eating Disorders and Kids: Statistics Show How Little We Know

When you picture a young person with an eating disorder, who do you picture? “Caucasian, well-off females” are a common presumption, according to the authors of a new report in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal, Pediatrics. People of color, boys, and kids of younger and younger ages are also affected, says the study, and the prevalence of eating disorders in these groups (as well as across all groups in general) is on a steady rise. In a new set of statistics, eating disorders (specifically anorexia and bulimia) in kids under the age of 12 rose 119% over the past 9 years. Eating disorders on the whole rose 15%.

It’s often difficult to recognize eating disorders in kids who are particularly young. Many are thin and “boyish” by nature, so weight loss is not a visible symptom. However, they may appear to have stunted growth, and in girls, under-eating may delay the onset of menstruation. Likewise, body image issues and obsession with appearance aren’t as common: it may be instead an issue of compulsion or control. The study’s authors recommend that primary care physicians include discussions of food, eating habits, and lifestyle into children’s yearly checkup as a screening tool. Physicians can then inform parents of concerns they have, or even refer the child to a specialist, whether that be a physician who focuses on childhood eating disorders, or a counselor or therapist trained in healing and establishing health habits.

On a particularly interesting note in the AAP study is the idea that anti-obesity campaigns, though positive in intention, may be worsening the landscape for kids who are susceptible to the thought and behavioral patterns behind eating disorders. An anti-obesity approach may enable unhealthy dieting and compulsive exercise, while breaking down self-esteem by tying self-worth to weight. Instead, weight-related campaigns should emphasize “healthy eating” (not just “anti-obesity”), which is a relevant and healthy goal for those both under- and over-weight.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • MnM

    MnM

    November 30th, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    You’re absolutely right about anti obesity campaigns having an unintended negative effect on kids. and when inthink of it I have seen a lot of pre teens and teens not eating enough and not eating right because theyre overtly cautious about their physical appearance.

  • lawrence b

    lawrence b

    December 1st, 2010 at 2:51 AM

    eating disorders are a very serious issue but we do not see much being done about it or enough awareness programs about it other than the customary ‘get rid of your fat’ ones.
    but it is heartening to see that some schools are doing their bit to spread the message.

  • Chelsea

    Chelsea

    December 7th, 2010 at 8:09 AM

    The idea that EDs are for young, rich white girls is incredibly outdated. They strike both genders, all races, all economic status, all faiths, and all sexual preferences. The medical problems that result from eating disorders are astronomical and sometimes deadly.

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