A new study has revealed more than 100 young children across Australia have been hospitalised with medical complications because of an eating disorder.
Last year, Australian doctors reported children as young as five being diagnosed with eating disorders in Australia.
Dr Sloane Madden specialises in treating children with eating disorders and he says this new research shows they are becoming more common.
“In the last 12 months there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of young people presenting to our unit,” he said.
Professor Phillipa Hay from the University Western Sydney says this is a significant study.
“This is a very important landmark study because for the first time it gives us national information on the nature and characteristics of children who suffer early onset eating disorders,” she said.
More than 100 underweight children were admitted to hospitals across Australia.
Professor Hay says many were very sick with the effects of starvation.
“For example slowed heart rate, or very low blood pressure so they had become physically compromised and unwell as a consequence of food deprivation,” she said.
One in four of the patients were boys.
“People are not expecting to see boys with eating disorders so they are picked up late with much more physical complications than we saw in young girls,” Dr Sloane said.
“Specialists are concerned that some GPs are missing the signs of eating disorders.
“In one case, a doctor told a nine-year-old boy’s family not to worry that he was losing weight.
“This young boy presented late on a Sunday night with a heart rate in the 30s which was really putting him at immediate risk of dying. He required resuscitation.
“If there starts to be a pattern of children not eating and becoming thinner and skipping lunch regularly, then parents should be concerned.”
At first glance the prevalence of underweight children would seem at odds with the increase in childhood obesity but experts say both overweight and underweight children have what is known as disordered eating and the advice to parents is the same.
With early treatment, three-quarters of children make a complete recovery.
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