Monday, February 22, 2010

Children at Risk of Eating Disorders

It has been revealed by the Sun in the UK that half of Britain's six-year-old girls want to be thinner with many convinced it would make them more popular. The shock figure emerged in a study by Cambridge University experts which found most girls consider themselves too fat by age 12.

Chillingly, half the six-year-olds who were asked to pick their ideal shape went for a digitally altered image of themselves three sizes smaller - the most stick-thin they could choose.

The mother of Saffron Davies, the girl who chose the thinnest image of herself as the best, blamed the cult of airbrushed Size Zero models. “Saffron looks through my magazines and says her legs are fat. There is a worrying culture of girls thinking they're overweight from a very young age,” she said.

The experiment was performed for a programme that will air in the UK next week about extreme parental guidance.

Cambridge's Dr Terri Apter said girls linked thinness with being popular and said “it’s distressing”.

The Sun also reported how sports-mad Lucy Davis, five, was branded unhealthily fat by NHS experts in Poole, Dorset - for being one per cent over her ideal Body Mass Index.

It is disturbing that girls as young as five and six are developing a negative awareness about weight and size. Is there a link between this and the article I posted on 1 February stating that record numbers of school-age girls are being treated in hospital for eating disorders in England?

The Sydney Morning Herald reported last June findings from a study published in the Medical Journal Of Australia in 2009. The study found that between July 2002 and June 2005, 101 five- to 13-year-old children were newly diagnosed with an eating disorder. About two-thirds were affected by anorexia nervosa. The rest were experiencing "food avoidant emotional disorder" - a condition unique to children which involves extreme weight loss driven by high anxiety levels, rather than wanting to be thin.

By the time these children received treatment most were experiencing life-threatening complications such as low body temperature, low blood pressure and slowed heart rate.

This trend rings alarm bells with eating-disorder specialists who know the shocking consequences of an eating disorder left unchecked in children. These include the effects of starvation and electrolyte imbalances which can cause cardiac arrest. Sufferers can also experience impaired fertility, stunted growth and thinning of the bones, in some cases to the point of osteoporosis.

"When kids are starved, their brains shrink, they're more likely to get depressed and anxious, their thinking slows down and memory falters,” said Dr Sloane Madden, child psychiatrist at the Children's Hospital at Westmead. “This affects their relationships with their friends. The effects can be reversed with re-feeding, but not always."

These serious complications can be prevented if children at risk are picked up early. "If children get the right treatment early, 70 to 80 per cent get well in 12 months and 90 per cent are better in five years. This is much better than in adults where the recovery rate at five years is less than 50 per cent," Madden says.

The Maudsley Model of family-oriented treatment is the current treatment of choice for children and new training programs for pediatricians and primary-care health workers are being developed. Meanwhile, although eating disorders in children are still rare, hospital admission rates are increasing. Professor Susan Sawyer, director of the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, says that over the last five years she has seen a dramatic increase in the number of young people presenting with eating disorders, especially among the 10- to 13-year age group.

After intensive research for my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues coupled with years of devoted work to helping those suffering from eating disorders, I know firsthand that low self esteem and feelings of worthlessness can perpetuate a cycle of self destruction which can lead to the onset of an eating disorder.

It is my personal belief that a positive body image is the result of how you feel about yourself on the inside; that fostering self-love creates inner peace and happiness, and the need to conform to societal and peer pressure diminishes. A negative body image can be a result of self loathing; the need to please others; feelings of hopelessness. And this is not helped by size zero images reflected in the media.

Although media influence is ever-present, parents can aid their child's interpretation of these images and educate them about positive body image. Parents can also increase their child's sense of self worth by focusing on qualities unrelated to size or appearance. If however, a child begins to display an aversion towards food and changes in their eating patterns, seek medical advice as soon as possible so that the child gets the right treatment early. See Treatment Options on page 201 of Why Can’t I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues

1 comment:

  1. "Saffron looks through my magazines" - and there in lies a significant part of the problem here. It is entirely unacceptable that a Mother would let her child read adult women's magazines or leave them lying around in a place where they were accessible. As you say Melinda, parents can aid and help this situation ENORMOUSLY. Exercising some common sense re: what they can get access to is a very good start.