Detection Eating Disorder in Early Children
Parents may notice their teenager picking at his or her food or that their child has begun to exercise more frequently and intensely. Parents may also notice their child talking constantly and almost obsessively about body size of their peers or slender people they idolize on television. Although parents may want to pass these occurrences off as a normal stage of adolescence, some parents are right to be concerned.
Prevention eating disorders in Early children
Although anorexia nervosa usually develops during adolescence, a disturbing number of cases have been appearing in young (sometimes very young) children. According to eating disorders specialist Barton J. Blinder, M.D. anorexia has been observed in children as young as four. He cites a Mayo Clinic study of 600 patients of all ages, which found that three percent were prepubescent anorexics.
In an article (Ellison, January 2000) entitled “Childhood Anorexia,” Dr. Blinder noted that children, most of whom are girls, have less body fat than their adolescent counterparts, so they become skeletal more quickly. He argues that a 15 percent weight loss, rather than the usual 25, should be a criterion for diagnosis. Childhood-onset anorexia can delay puberty, growth, and breast development.
Parents are largely responsible for shaping a child’s body image and eating lifestyle. Mirror-Mirror webmaster Colleen Thompson believes that parents who are themselves preoccupied with body image and weight increase the ranks of childhood anorexics. Dr. W. Stewart Agras cited a study that showed that children of anorexic mothers were already more depressed, whiny and eating dysfunctional by age five.￼
Along these same lines however, enlightened parents who are good communicators and sensitive to the child’s developmental stage can do a great deal to prevent eating disorders even in the face of a child’s genetic or environmental susceptibility.
The signs of an eating disorder
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, all of the activities mentioned above may be signs of an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are eating disorders that are increasing among teens and children, especially young women but not excluding young men.
“Generally, eating disorders involve self-critical, negative thoughts and feelings about personal appearance and food,” says Becky Burnett, Clinical Dietitian at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. “Eating disorders are thought to be caused by underlying psychological problems, with the visible symptom being disordered eating and thinking about food.”￼
A person with anorexia nervosa is hungry, but he or she denies the hunger because of an irrational fear of becoming fat. It is often characterized by self-starvation, food preoccupation and rituals, compulsive exercising, and in women, the absence of menstrual cycles.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by reoccurring periods of binge eating, during which large amounts of food are consumed in a short period of time. Frequently, the binges are followed by purging, through self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives and/or diuretics, or periods of fasting. The bulimic’s weight is usually normal or somewhat above normal range; it may fluctuate more than 10 pounds due to alternating binges and fasts.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders estimates that there are 8 million people in this country suffering from eating disorders, and there are more cases being reported in the eight-to- eleven-year-old bracket every day. The American Anorexia/Bulimia Association estimates that 1 percent of teenage girls in the United States develop anorexia nervosa, and approximately 5 percent of college women in the United States have bulimia.
The staff at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital offers the following warning signs for helping to detect both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia danger signs include significant weight loss; continual dieting (even though the child is already thin); feelings of fatness by the child even after weight loss; fear of weight gain; lack of menstrual periods; preoccupation with food, calories, nutrition, and/or cooking; a preference to eat in isolation; compulsive exercise; insomnia; brittle hair or nails; and social withdrawal.
Bulimia nervosa danger signs include uncontrollable eating (binge eating), purging by self-induced vomiting; vigorous exercise; abuse of laxatives or diuretics (water pills) to lose weight; frequent use of the bathroom after meals; reddened fingers (from inducing vomiting); swollen cheeks or glands (from induced vomiting); preoccupation with body weight; depression or mood swings; irregular menstrual periods; dental problems, such as tooth decay caused by induced vomiting; and heartburn and/or bloating.
What parents should do:
First, rule out medical and psychological illnesses.
Create a healthy eating lifestyle at home and expect your child to participate within it. Offer your child healthy foods, prepare at least three nourishing meals a day; be sure to eat those meals together with your child and family as often as possible. Your child learns by imitating your behaviors.
Never skip meals.
Keep your lifestyle active and expect your child to do the same. If children are too sedentary, turn off the television and encourage activity.
Spend quality time with your child. Read together; go for walks.
Become aware of your own personal attitudes about eating, body image, and weight control. Do you encourage your son to eat so that he can grow big and strong, yet caution your daughter against becoming fat?
Never force your child to “clean her plate,” giving her a sense of not being in control of her own food. The parent should determine the menu and the child should determine the amounts of food consumed.
Do not criticize your own or your child’s weight, shape or size.
Don’t tolerate casual derogatory comments about other people’s weight and physical appearance. Children take to heart and personalize what you say.
Be aware of how your current responses to your child’s problem may be affecting your child’s behavior and feelings.
Encourage your child to become aware of her feelings and to express them freely. Communicating through the use of words diminishes the odds that anxious feelings will be expressed through food-related behaviors.
Remember that too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. Don’t allow your child to overdo athletics or dance activities. Food restriction, the use of hormones, and extreme workouts are not uncommon practices for participants in certain competitive sports. Be involved and aware of what the coach or teacher is requiring of the team and your team, and be prepared to step in where you believe things have become extreme and therefore, unhealthy. A recent study (Davison, Earnest, Birch; Participation in Aesthetic sports; International Journal of Eating Disorders April 2002 pgs. 315-316) demonstrates that in comparison to girls who participated in non-aesthetic sports or no sports, girls who participated in aesthetic sports reported higher weight concerns at ages 5 and 7 and girls who participated in aesthetic sports at ages 5 and 7 reported the greatest concern about their weight at age 7.
If you believe a problem exists, be certain to seek out professional help. When kids are young, going for treatment yourself, and or with your spouse or partner first, is always a good place to start. In some instances, that alone might be enough to adjust whatever might be troubling your child.
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