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Eating Disorders Appearing Younger

In a world where magazine covers depict perfect bodies and airbrushed curves, it should come as no surprise that eating disorders are becoming more apparent in younger generations. In fact, new research suggests that these disorders are becoming common in children as young as eight years old. In the past these behaviors were thought to develop during puberty, or just after, but evidence shows that the impact of popular culture as well as peer involvement and parent coaching is creating a world where even young children are susceptible to poor body image.


The most recent research, produced by the University of Montreal, found that under and overeating is becoming a big problem for prepubescent children, especially between ages eight and twelve. Professor Meilleur, who led the study have confirmed that there is a link between psychological, social, and biological factors.


Bullying In Schools


One of the major triggers of eating disorders for younger children seems to be bullying. As long as there has been a school system, bullying has occurred, but statistics show that the level of bullying has become more severe over the years, and students are becoming more susceptible to the psychological impact of teasing and physical bullying.


The bullying itself can cause anxiety and stress which lead to eating restrictions, but sometimes it is specific taunts which pinpoint body image that pushes students over the edge and causes them to try and lose weight by means of anorexia or bulimia.


The Latest Statistics


Professor Meilleur’s study use statistics from more than two-hundred children who suffered from eating disorders. Their ages arranged between eight and twelve, and were deemed healthy in relation to any additional medical conditions which could be cause for the eating disorder. What they found was that more than 13% had bulimic responses to eating, and more than 52% had been hospitalized for their disorder. Medical News Today reports on the study, saying: “Although eating disorders are typically ascribed to females, the study found that boys in the same age group were similar to the girls in most cases, with the exception being a link with social isolation, which the researchers say was greater and lengthier for boys. According to the NIMH, some boys with eating disorders display symptoms similar to those seen in females, while others may have muscle dysmorphia - an extreme concern with becoming more muscular.”


The results were startling for both the research team and parents around the world who read the reports. It shows that there has been a significant increase in the number of children battling eating disorders, and that there is a greater need than ever before for early intervention.


Positive Outcomes Of This Research


While the research has given some grim news in terms of additional reasons for parents to fear for their children, it has also offered hope. Understanding that these issues can begin occurring so young helps open the eyes to educators and parents regarding body image and the importance of communication even with young children about the dangers of eating disorders. The Recovery Ranch writes: “Those who develop eating disorders tend to be very dissatisfied with the way they look, to the point that they are no longer capable of accurately assessing their own physical appearance. Even if they have begun losing some weight, for example, they will remain convinced they are still too fat and that they look terrible, and in the early stages of their condition they will express these sentiments quite frequently to others”


Children need to know that they are loved and important no matter their size, and they also need to learn about healthy eating habits, and why it is important to eat properly. Other benefits of the study include the ability to screen for eating disorders earlier in children who are showing possible signs of body dysmorphia and other indicators. In the past these risks may have been brushed off due to age, but these findings produce a platform on which parents can base a case in order to get children the help they need to stay healthy.


Signs Of A Disorder


Before a parent can ask for help, they must be able to pinpoint particular signs that a child is undergoing an eating disorder. These symptoms sometimes hide or are hidden, and can be difficult to uncover. This is why it is crucial to pay close attention to what your child is or isn’t eating when possible. Some signs include counting calories, avoiding foods which are deemed fatty, and trying to drink instead of eat at mealtimes. Other concerns include eating too much or too little, exercising constantly, especially following a meal, or frequent bathroom visits which could indicate the use of laxatives or vomiting as a means of weight control. EatingDisorders.org also lists the following warning signs: “Frequent avoidance of eating meals by giving excuses (e.g. claiming they have already eaten or have an intolerance/allergy to particular foods). Strong focus on body shape and weight (e.g. interest in weight-loss websites, dieting tips in books and magazines, images of thin people). Development of repetitive or obsessive body checking behaviours (e.g. pinching waist or wrists, repeated weighing of self, excessive time spent looking in mirrors)”


If you notice your child displaying any of these signs, it is an indicator that you need to call a doctor or psychologist as soon as possible.

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