Parents Take Note: Anorexia in Tweens on the Rise
Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, are on the rise among children and teens in the U.S. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by 119% between 1999 and 2006, and those numbers continue to rise.
Society puts a great deal of pressure on children to be thin. Dina Zeckhausen, psychologist and founder of the Eating Disorder Information Network told CNN in a recent CNN.com article, “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.” In addition to these societal pressures are the lessons children learn from their parents about body image.
If you don’t think your kids are watching your every move and listening to every word you say, you’re wrong. For many children, their perception of diet and exercise is largely influenced by their parents’ own diet and exercise routine. Research has shown that kids — especially daughters — are more likely to have ideas about dieting when they see their mothers dieting. Moms: Your daughters are watching what you eat, how much you exercise and what you think about how you look.
In other words, if your child sees you constantly counting calories, cutting out fat and restricting your diet, they are more likely to do the same. If your daughter hears you obsessing over your weight, she will be more likely to be obsessed with hers. If she sees that you never think you are good enough, she will likely feel the same way about herself. This can be damaging, especially for young girls as they approach their teenage years. Many times a teen’s concern about her weight as well as unhealthy eating patterns and compulsive exercise habits is sparked by how her mom’s concern about weight and dieting.
Follow these steps to ensure your influence on your child’s body image is a positive one:
- Teach your child that weight gain is a normal part of his or her physical development, especially during puberty.
- Avoid making negative comments about your own body size or shape or obsessing over calories or fat intake.
- Teach your kids the importance of balance between a healthy diet and physical activity.
- Compliment your kids on their accomplishments, talents, efforts and personality, rather than focusing on physical appearance.
- Closely monitor your kids’ exposure to media, and take time to discuss images they may see on TV, in movies or magazines.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your kids.
If you are a parent, you must learn to recognize the signs of eating disorders. If you have children, familiarize yourself with these common signs of eating disorders:
- Changes in diet – Sudden change in eating habits, including portion size, eliminating favorite foods or avoiding fat calories.
- 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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