Eating disorders are sending more U.S. children to hospital, and pediatricians should be on the lookout for patients suspected of having a problem, according to a clinical report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“We are seeing a lot more eating disorders than we used to and we are seeing it in people we didn’t associate with eating disorders in the past — a lot of boys, little kids, people of color and those with lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Dr. David Rosen, a professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry at University of Michigan who authored the research
At the same time as eating disorders have risen, the obesity epidemic has also increased. According to Rosen, it is crucial how parents and physicians are talking to young people about obesity. Concerns about overweight and obesity have prompted some physicians to counsel their young patients about nutrition, which Rosen said can backfire if not handled correctly.
“There are lots of kids in my practice who say their eating disorder started when their family doctor told them, ‘You could stand to lose a few pounds,'” Rosen said. “As physicians, we need to make sure our conversations are not inadvertently hurtful or impact their self-esteem.”
Parents and pediatricians also have to be aware of the changes in their children’s health and look for signs. Signs include a child whose progress on growth charts suddenly changes, very restrictive eating, compulsive over-exercising, making statements about body image and disappearing after meals.
As with mental health problems and addictions, ranging from depression to anxiety disorder to alcoholism, studies have shown that eating disorders can run in families. There is a strong genetic component, according to Rosen.
“We used to think eating disorders were the consequences of bad family dynamics, that the media caused eating disorders or that individuals who had certain personality traits got eating disorders,” Rosen said. “All of those can play a role, but it’s just not that simple. All young women are exposed to the same media influences, but only a small percentage of them develop eating disorders. So what is different about those 1 percent that develop an eating disorder compared to the 99 percent who don’t?”
It is estimated 0.5 per cent of adolescent girls in the United States have anorexia nervosa (self-starvation), and one to two per cent meet criteria for bulimia nervosa (bingeing and purging).
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