Childhood Eating Disorders on the Rise


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  30 comments   :  15,453 Views

When you think of childhood issues related to weight and health, overweight and obesity are probably the first two that come to mind. The media puts a lot of focus on kids who eat too much and don't exercise enough. But there is another alarming trend related to weight and health that parents need to be aware of: eating disorders. The incidence of anorexia and bulimia in young kids has increased dramatically over the past 10 years. Who is at risk? And why are these rates increasing now?

The report, published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that eating disorder hospitalizations for children under 12 were up 119% from 1999 to 2006. Eating disorders are particularly dangerous for young kids because they can lead to stunted growth, organ damage and malnourishment (in addition to other permanent side effects.) The stereotype used to be young, upper-class females who suffered from these diseases. But that's no longer the case. Eating disorders affect children of every race and class. In fact, males make up 10 percent of the eating disorder population.

We used to think that images in the media were largely responsible for these problems, since young people feel pressure to look like the celebrities they see in magazines and on T.V. But there are new factors influencing this trend. Pediatricians are offering advice about nutrition and weight as they try to prevent problems with overweight and obesity. Sometimes that can lead to an obsession with the scale and negative feelings about food. In our efforts to prevent weight issues in one direction (the scale going up), we might be creating issues in the other direction (the scale going down.) The good news is that children have a higher treatment success rate than adults. So if the problem is caught early, a full recovery is more likely.

I believe that preventing eating disorders starts at home. I teach my children that their bodies are beautiful no matter what they look like. We focus more on being strong, active and healthy, and not on the numbers on the scale. I want them to have a healthy relationship with food, knowing that some foods are best in moderation, but that no foods are "bad". I picked up a lot from watching my mom constantly diet and battle her weight when I was growing up. So I am working hard to create a healthy environment with my family from the beginning.

What do you think? Did anyone in your family struggle with eating disorders at a young age? What happened to them?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
NEXT ENTRY >   CONTEST CLOSED: Win 1 of 3 Awesome MISSION Skincare Gift Sets


  • 30
    Unlike the author of this article, when I hear the words "childhood" and "eating disorder" I don't automatically think of obesity or of Michell Obama's war on fat kids. I think anorexia, bulemia and of the millions and millions of children ...who have been born into this fat-phobic society and who are reaping the rewards of having the "fat is bad" message drilled into their heads. So, while you read this article I'd like you to think about the following numbers:

    * 89 - the percent of women who would rather BE HIT BY A TRUCK than be fat
    * 8 - the average age a girl first goes on a diet
    * 3 Billion - the number of women who DON'T look like your average model, singer or actress
    * 12 - the size that Marilyn Monroe wore
    * 0 to 2 - the size that most modern models and actresses wear
    * 25 - the percent of college age women who has an eating disorder
    * 100 - the percent to which photos in magazines can be altered, edited and retouched to create a false image of beauty
    * 70 - the percent of women who feel depressed, guilty and ashamed after looking at fashion magazines for just THREE MINUTES

    Fat is not the enemy. Judgement, shame and hatred are. - 1/16/2011   2:37:00 PM
  • 29
    My nephew at 9 has a weight problem, his doctor even told his mom. He is at risk for diabetes, etc. Unfortunely, his mom, even though she just lost over 40 lbs, will not see that her son is having problems. This is hard for me to watch, my beloved nephew is putting on weight and cannot enjoy the sports he once was able to. He used to love to bike ride as well and now can barely go around his house once. There are all types of health problems related to weight and we need to find a way to address them with positive, healthy, uplifting solutions. And we, as a society and as individuals, need to address the individuals with the health & weight problems one-on-one; do not compare them to others. None of us like to be compared to others. - 12/31/2010   1:44:14 AM
  • 28
    I grew up on an Indian reservation, and I don't think anyone had an eating disorder, I remember being hungry more than having too much to eat. My family didn't even have electricity for most of my younger years, when we finally got it, it was so awesome. So Media didn't effect me, my sisters or brothers, or any of our friends. We played outside, went to bed after dark, like I said, hunger was more of a problem. - 12/30/2010   4:55:48 PM
  • JAY75REY
    re post by Kaitlyncampbell: very insightful. My daughter developed bulimia at age 11 and now is 28, still struggles with it. I think the issue of "control" and feeling "out of control" is a very critical one for those struggling with eating disorders. Not to mention the dysmorphia. I was a yo-yo dieter going up and down on program diets while she was young; and wonder if my dieting had any affect on her. Also at the time me and my husband were separating. Lots of things were going on for her. - 12/30/2010   4:40:33 PM
    I often wonder just how much damage i have done to my children and grandchildren with rules . - 12/29/2010   6:09:16 PM
  • 25
    There are many factors with eating disorders. I hope that this issue gets addressed on many levels, awareness needs to happen in the homes, schools, sports teams, t.v., and everywhere. I work in a public school and am always surprised to hear first graders talking about food and the fat in the food. A first grade boy shocked me one day telling me that he couldn't eat his school lunch because he had a wrestling meet that weekend and he couldn't gain any weight. I did convince him that the salad wouldn't add to his weight at all, so he at least ate that. Then there are kids on the other extreme that bring their own lunch that is packed with junk. The school did make a policy that does not allow students to bring soda pop in their lunch. One small step towards a healthy world. LOL - 12/29/2010   5:00:23 PM
  • 24
    i know my already thin niece was referring to herself as "fat" because of her mother's negative body image. kids are listening even when we don't think they are. so i implore moms to really think about the negative self talk. A) try not to engage in it because it's self destructive and not at all conducive to achieving one's goals. and B) because little ones' ears may overhear you and it has a profound effect on their psyche. their little minds can't compete with all the beauty images they are constantly bombarded with in the media so when their primary role model, typically their mother if they are a little girl, reinforces unattainable or unrealistic beauty standards, they aren't equipped to handle what this all means OR the consequences of their actions whether conscious or subconscious. you know what i mean? - 12/29/2010   11:34:46 AM
  • 23
    There are a lot of reasons that children become anorexic. The one thing I ask of parents is PLEASE, DO NOT compare your child to other children. DO NOT tell your child, "Oh, look at so and so, why can't you be like she is? Why don't you do that? Why can't you look like that? Why can't you do such and such the way she does?
    And yes, I put a LOT of blame on that oh-so-self-loving, self-grandizing, self-proclaimed progressive entity called Hollywood. Despite its claim that we should embrace diversity, Hollywood is the one of the most elite and exclusive "clubs" in the US. - 12/29/2010   9:43:59 AM
  • 22
    I am a recovering anorexic and have been in treatment for the past five months and while in recovery, I found out a lot about what truly creates the basis for an eating disorder. There are, of course, many different factors since people all have different experiences. So, I do think the media plays a part in helping girls and women of all ages, actually, feel as though they have to fit into a certain size to be beautiful or accepted. I think of the new Truvia commerical that has been on recently where the songs sings that sugar made the lady's butt "fat" and now that she eats Truvia, her skinny jeans "zip in relief." What a lie! This is the not only the media, but online and in some articles, the common lie that is told that by eating certain foods, you can become fat. This is a lie because body fat is not equal to fats in foods.
    But, I also do have to say that the media is not fully to blame. I don't know if anyone can truly be to blame. For example, my eating disorder was a manifestation of my interpretations of myself and that I "had to be good enough" and I "had to meet expectations" and I "had to be perfect." Because I could not truly control things like school, my grades or how a teacher graded a paper, my parents, losing people I loved to death, etc. this was something I COULD weight! So, when I hear of a little girl that has succumbed to an eating disorder...I see it as her way of controlling things when she feels everything else is out of control in her life. The problem with this is, by having an eating disorder, it is actually the eating disorder controlling her, not the other way around. And this is what we need to bring to light...if I had known that at the age of 24 I would have osteoporosis and be in constant pain for the rest of my life, as well as need to be on vitamins and minerals for the rest of my life, and that I would never have kids...I think that I would have thought twice before going so long before I got treatment.
    THANK YOU for writing about this! I pray that we can continue to do so! - 12/29/2010   8:37:46 AM
  • 21
    I think this is just so sad. It's really hard to pin-point any one particular cause of eating disorder in young kids -- 8-year-olds see that fat kids get teased in gym class, 10-year-olds are internet savvy enough to see plenty of advertising, 12-year-olds are watching R-rated movies and reading YA books with looks-obsessed characters, and nowhere near enough adults are healthy enough to set the right example for eating right and feeling good about our bodies. There are too many influences on kids' behavior to say that it's any particular group's fault.

    I used to have a pretty rough relationship with food and my body, starting from age 12-13 until I was almost 25. Half my life spent eating poorly, not exercising, not respecting my body the way I needed to. Now, I feel like I really AM becoming more and more mindful of how and what to eat in a holistic way, I'm comfortable in my skin, and I think about what I can DO far more than how I can look. Hopefully, when I have children, they'll get that message more than any other. - 12/29/2010   8:10:43 AM
    Someone mentioned in the comments that the media shouldn't be blamed for all this. Shouldn't it? I was raised with a horrible example of body image from my mom but it wasn't until the media presented options through their coverage that I developed an eating disorder landing me in and out of the hospital. I do blame the media. Thankfully I recovered after many years and now have a healthy self-esteem and body image. I wish that, if anything, the media would refocus off of "size" and onto "self-image".

    It saddens me that even here on SparkPeople their are many who have eating disorders. Their starting (heavy) weight is, for example, 120 and their goal weight is in the double digits... really? Eating disorders are prevalent whether people are aware of it or not. I think it is a thermometer to what societies focus is on.

    Let's refocus on health and wellbeing so that children and young adults can see, through example, how to live and learn what is really important. - 12/29/2010   7:38:45 AM
    What happened to them? --- psychological abuse, COE, root canals, college student with dentures - 12/29/2010   6:35:53 AM
  • 18
    My mother and aunt were all about being skinny. I took after that and use to eat very minimal when I was younger. I always didn't feel well and have headaches and migraines. I may have been a size 3-5 back then but I wasn't healthy on the inside. I later worked at UCLA medical center in PT and saw a lot of young adults with these problems. I started to take better care of myself when I realized the damge I was doing to my body to stay so skinny. - 12/29/2010   1:24:07 AM
  • 17
    excellent blog, this is something that I have been petitioning about lately with the new fat-phobia instilled in children. It's not going to get better as many dietitians believe that curing the obesity epidemic is a social movement like the one that happened for smokers which includes stigmatizing obese people and inactivity. Tragic. - 12/29/2010   1:05:44 AM
  • 16
    No. - 12/29/2010   12:47:20 AM
  • 15
    I was always thin whan I grew up so I dont know what to say as far my own wxperience mind you we were alot MORE active in the 60's and 70's than the kids nowadays. I know some of the blame can be put on the media (advertisers are still part of the media like it or not) as well as all the so called labour saving devices out there (yes I spelt it right with a "u" get over it) I know when I was a kid I walked to school or took the bus there were no rides (my Dad was the only one who drove).If you wanted to go somewhere it was the bus, bike or walk unless you were lucky enough to get a lft.
    Nowadays it seems like kids get driven everywhere whether they need it or not. Also there were no video games or pc s when we were kids (hell I only got my first decent calculator when I started college!!) and we didnt have cable tv in my city until 1972 so there was limited "ass" time if you know what I mean. - 12/29/2010   12:43:54 AM
  • 14
    I rushed to read this blog as I see signs that my 6 yo daughter is already unhealthily (IMHO) preoccupied with her body shape and size. She is at a healthy weight, eats well, is aware of nutritional eating basics - including how and why we 'can' become overweight. I try to set a good example by exercising and eating well, but worry about striking the right balance for her sake as well... - 12/29/2010   12:10:25 AM
  • 13
    My mom had a college degree in home economics, and she saw to it that we all ate balanced meals without stressing out about it. And we all were also involved in some kind of regular physical activity, too. - 12/28/2010   4:52:56 PM
  • 12
    We have a responsiblity as parents and humans to help our children not repeat our mistakes by being better examples. Unfortunately, most of us have taught our children the incorrect way to live life. We overindulge in food and fail to exercise. By changing our lifestyles we can show children (and other adults) how eating better and exercising frequently can benefit our bodies. It's not easy but we can do it. - 12/28/2010   4:15:19 PM
  • 11
    Thank you for a great blog. I have had a life-time Love/Hate relationship with food. I had my first battle with Anorexia the summer between Junior High and High School. I lost 60+ lbs in 3 months. At 20, I wore a size 14 Little Girls jeans and I am 5'7. I am now 53 and still battling, but for the first time I am learning the tools to balance. Again thank you for bringing this issue into the light. - 12/28/2010   11:49:14 AM
  • 10
    My mom was thin and petite most of my life, but her eating habits were atrocious. She lived on diet soda and cigarettes mostly, so much so that I joked that they would find her dead at her computer one day, perfectly preserved from all the chemicals in her life, and discover she had been dead for a month.
    My dad was a mailman back in the day of the walking route. He walked 20+ miles each day, carrying a mailbag. When he got home he ate a sandwich and drank a cup of coffee to tide him over (he woke up at 4:30 in the morning and ate breakfast then, lunch at 10:30, and was starved by 4:00 when he got home). So I got really mixed messages.
    I tried to teach my children good habits, but when my own slipped, they saw that. - 12/28/2010   11:39:28 AM
  • 9
    Oh boy, this is a big issue for me. I was overweight since 5 years old - my parents put me on diets - I developed eating disorders as a teenager that plagued me for years and years. It's only been in the past 2+ years that I have finally began developing a healthy relationship with food. I have a 9 year old daughter. Over the past 2 years I have also come to the realization that my weight issues had been on constant display for her - this is not good. I have made conscious efforts to change that in the past 2 years of my own journey. We eat much healthier and we now make exercise a part of our lives by hiking and just having fun. But, even more than that I don't talk about my weight anymore - I don't demonize any food - I just quietly make sure I stock the house with mostly healthy stuff and only occasionally bring in chocolate chip cookies and potato chips. Thankfully she is a healthy weight and loves being active. She has none of my childhood issues with weight. I know I was on the road to passing down to her my own legacy of disordered eating. It is so easy to do as we don't even realize how much they see and hear of our weight issues. I hope I have turned that around. My daughter deserves that. - 12/28/2010   11:35:53 AM
  • 8
    Thank you for bringing this subject up it is a good one; we try to teach our children a healthy view about food. We also have on special occations fun food, but on a day to day bases we eat healthy most of the time. - 12/28/2010   11:33:21 AM
    I actually get tired of the media (sorry, I work in "the media" lol) being blamed for anything related to problems with weight management (this includes eating disorders of all kinds, whether eating too much or too little) and sorry this blog is part of that media bashing, but on the other hand, the advice that good healthy habits and self-esteem have to be built at home is correct, IMO.

    The term "fat bashing" also irritates moi (sorry, on a rant this morning, not meaning any offense). To be concerned about rising obesity rates is not fat bashing. Obesity is not a good thing and anorexia is not a good thing, old or young.

    But it is not the whole of society or the media or the health services that can solve this in the final analysis (not meaning that people with eating disorders or obesity should not get treatment, talking about attitudes), it is only individual to individual, family member to family member, friend to friend who can spread the word about healthy lifestyles and weight management (meaning managing obesity or underweight or maintenance or EDs).

    Beautiful people come in all shapes and sizes, obesity and ED, however, are health problems and somehow kids need to grow up understanding this difference.

    World, don't blame the media, take a good look at your own attitudes. - 12/28/2010   11:28:55 AM
  • 6
    This is such a double edged sword issue in our country. We have too-thin, altered people that is our standard for beauty broadcast to us from a million different forms of media... and I've always felt the people feeding into this ideal can't reach it because they are busy watching TV, watching movies, browsing websites instead of living life and being active. I haven't found a good balance yet myself... I either can't keep up with all the latest shows and movies, or I can and the reason why is I'm sitting on my butt and not exercizing or being active.

    I do think that the pressure is still coming from the media and from peers, not the doctors!! Every one is always quick to judge & voice their opinions on another's appearance, even if their own is less than stellar! My friends' kids have all said they've been picked on at school, and of course, the majority of these kids are watching the Disney Channel and movies non-stop!

    We as a country are our own worst enemy. We have a decent economy b/c of consumerism, but are losing our health due to things we don't need ruling our lives! - 12/28/2010   11:13:40 AM
  • 5
    My daughter battled anorexia when she was younger, however I didn't realize it because she had always been a picky eater. I became concerned when she decided to become a vegetarian, because there were so many things she wouldn't eat that would have helped her with balanced nutrition as a vegetarian. Now she battles in the other direction as a young adult of 30. I'm going to show her this article, as she is pregnant with her first child. Let's hope she can break the cycle! - 12/28/2010   10:01:28 AM
  • 4
    I was a sneak eater from the time I was six or seven years old. I hid peanut butter under my bed and I'd eat unprepared gelatin out of the package. My parents were bad role models for eating (but good in so many other ways). I did flirt with anorexia when at 15 years old I lost 60 pounds in 9 months. Unfortunately, I gained it back in 3 months. Years and years of yoyo dieting followed. The happy ending is that at age 61 I found SparkPeople and I have been at a healthy BMI now for almost 2 years. I continue to make progress on overcoming binge eating; I now have 24 days in a row of eating with dignity. I credit SparkPeople the most, but Weight Watchers, Leslie Sansone, and the YMCA have all been tremendous help on this journey. - 12/28/2010   9:59:43 AM
    Neither of my children have issues with weight on either end. Interesting information to keep in mind for sure. - 12/28/2010   9:57:27 AM
  • 2
    I teach and see many studets, thanks for saying it all begins at home, how true, students will not eat what they are not already familar with, good or bad. - 12/28/2010   8:50:57 AM
  • 1
    I was shocked when there was a programme about a 7yr old British girl who had anorexia. They took her to a clinic and there was other children too. It's definitely unhealthy images like size0000 models, Barbie dolls seem skinnier than when I was younger (their legs now look like their arms 10yrs ago), photoshopping celebrity photos, bashing celebs when they gain a few pounds or have cellulite, and the fat bashing from society as a whole e.g. our National Health Service is under pressure because of fat people, fat people are greedy, fat people are lazy, etc. - 12/28/2010   6:47:28 AM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›


Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.