Eating Disorders Rise Among All Children

The number of cases of eating disorders has doubled since the 1960's, the most affected being children and adolescents who suffer anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating among other eating disorders.Since the 1960s, the number of cases of eating disorders has doubled in the United States, according to the Eating Disorders Coalition, a non-profit advocacy organization. About 0.5 percent of teenage girls suffer from anorexia. Up to 5 percent have bulimia nervosa, in which they binge on food and then purge by vomiting or using laxatives, according to the Chicago-based American Academy of Pediatrics.

The statistics suggest that eating disorders have moved beyond the stereotype. It used to be considered primarily a health issue for young, white, affluent teenage girls. Now, the problem has crossed socioeconomic, ethnic and gender boundaries.

Up to 10 percent of all cases now affect boys, and boys and girls are being diagnosed with eating disorders at earlier ages, according to the academy and eating-disorder experts. advertisement

Recent studies have shown that 42 percent of first-, second- and third-grade girls want to be thinner; that 40 percent of almost 500 fourth-graders surveyed said they diet "very often" or "sometimes"; and that 46 percent of 9-year-olds and 81 percent of 10-year-olds admit to dieting, binge eating or fear of getting fat, according to the Harvard Eating Disorders Center in Boston.

The boom in eating disorders is fueled by a number of factors, experts say. Children see parents diet, sometimes obsessively and unnecessarily, and learn by example.

Pressure to look good probably never has been greater, and "good" often translates to "thin," says Dr. Ellen Rome, head of the section of adolescent medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Today's youngsters "are bombarded with messages that thin is in," she says.

Experts hope to get a handle on the problem, partly through earlier diagnosis so patients can get the treatment they need. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a policy statement urging its members to be alert to the possibility of eating disorders in their patients and advising them on how to screen for problems.

Among the recommendations: Pediatricians should be aware of signs and symptoms of eating disorders, such as dizziness, weakness, constipation or "cold intolerance." They also should calculate patients' weight and height to see if they are at a healthy weight and know when and how to refer patients to other specialists when needed.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 24). Eating Disorders Rise Among All Children, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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