Eating Disorders on the Rise Among Tweens: 3 Signs for Recognizing an Eating Disorder in Your Child
An emphasis on preventing childhood obesity may be creating a dangerous alternative: young children with high levels of anxiety about weight gain. “There is so much emphasis on obesity that there’s a danger that we are going to produce a lot of anxieties in kids around weight,” Dina Zeckhausen, psychologist and founder of the Eating Disorder Information Network said in a recent CNN.com article.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006, and experts say the problem is only getting worse. Children learn unhealthy attitudes toward food and weight at a very young age. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that a significant portion of five-year-old girls associated a diet with food restriction, losing weight and being thin.
Many parents may find it difficult to believe their teenager or college-aged child suffers from an eating disorder, much less a child in his or her pre-teens or even younger. Getting help early is key to effective treatment. The longer an eating disorder goes without treatment, the more difficult it is to treat as more physical and psychological damage occurs.
Even parents of young children and tweens should learn to recognize the signs of eating disorders. If you have children, familiarize yourself with these signs your child may be suffering from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.
- Changes in diet – Sudden change in eating habits, including portion size, eliminating foods the child once enjoyed or avoiding fat calories are all signs a child, tween or teen may be struggling with an eating disorder.
- Sudden weight loss – Many times, parents don’t immediately recognize weight loss. Other times, especially if the child participates in sports, weight loss is excused. Sudden or drastic weight loss is a telling sign a child is suffering from an eating disorder.
- Psychological symptoms – High anxiety, perfectionism or obsessive-compulsive behavior are character traits shared by children at risk of an eating disorder. Irritability, lethargy and lack of energy are other symptoms of an eating disorder. Additionally, children who are or have been subjected to bullying at school, abuse or a divorce may also be at higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
An eating disorder is a serious disease, which can cause severe medical complications or even death. Anorexia and bulimia are both illnesses that cannot be treated without the help of a professional. Treatment requires more than simply behavior modification; psychological and emotional roots must be treated as well. If you suspect your child or loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, do not ignore the signs. Seek immediate help from a professional.
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