In a recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, 101 children aged 5-13 who had been diagnosed with eating disorders were studied. 78% were so severely ill they had to be admitted to hospital. About half required nasogastric tube feeding and one third were given psychotropic medications such as anti-depressants. Only 27% met the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa while half did not meet the weight criteria (which requires the patient to be less than 85% of their ideal weight for their height). 61% had potentially life-threatening complications such as malnutrition.
The study has shown that the criteria for diagnosing eating disorders in adults should not be applied to young children because they are not being recognised as having eating disorders until they are extremely ill.
The study also found that a quarter of the sufferers were boys.
With the incidence of eating disorders on the rise amongst children as young as primary school age, there is a need for greater awareness of the early warning signs amongst parents.
Dr Stacey Rosenfeld, a New York City based psychologist and eating disorder specialist, says that being a psychologically savvy parent can help significantly decrease the chances that your child will develop a clinical eating disorder. "Kids are very smart and they pick up on their parents' relationship with their own bodies and with food," she says. "What is most important is that parents need to recognise the signs and trust their instincts. Oftentimes, parents ignore early signs because they feel that this problem would be a bad reflection of their parenting and love for their child. If parents witness the signs and jump in early, they can get their child off a dangerous path."
Dr Rosenfeld advises parents to talk about foods in the context of how they nourish their child's body, encourage physical activity for the sake of health (instead of weight control) and focus on their child's strengths outside of their body.
When I'm on the speaker's circuit, one thing I always advise parents to do is this: compliment your child on their strengths unrelated to the way they look. For example "you are so caring, looking after your sister like that", "I love how you've done your hair, it looks really pretty" and "aren't you clever, figuring that out". Praise your child and give them positive reinforcement, especially in the areas where their talents lie. Honour your child's magnificence and their confidence will soar. Confidence fosters self esteem which creates a positive self image, including body image.
To read more about Dr Rosenfeld's advice for parents visit: