Kids As Young As Five Treated For Anorexia

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Almost 600 children below the age of 13 have been treated in hospital for eating disorders over the past three years – and nearly 200 of those children are aged five to nine. These are just some of the alarming new figures released by 35 NHS hospitals in England, some of which would only disclose figures for those children admitted to wards after becoming dangerously emaciated, reports The Telegraph.

It’s a disturbing image, to say the least. I don’t know a single female who hasn’t at one point dealt with body-image issues, regardless of how they’re brought up or what types of messages they’re receiving at home or in the media. And we all have that high-school friend who ended up in the hospital after not eating for days, weeks, months. It’s sad no matter what age and stage, but there’s something about picturing a little five-year-old with an eating disorder that’s just beyond heart-wrenching, to say the least.

According to The Telegraph, experts are quick to blame celebrity culture with “glorified size zero figures.” Susan Ringwood, for one – chief executive of eating disorders at a charity called B-eat – told the paper that young children are internalizing messages from celebrity magazines: “A number of factors combine to trigger eating disorders; biology and genetics play a large part in their development, but so do cultural pressures, and body image seems to be influencing younger children much more over the past decade.”

What really struck me when reading this piece is the fact that even by age seven, girls who looked at outline drawings of women thought the thinner ones were happier and more popular than those with slightly larger outlines. What’s also interesting is that almost half of those diagnosed with disorders by the age of 12 had a close family member with a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression.

One woman included in the article, Charlotte Bevan, shared her emotional story of her daughter becoming obsession with food and diet at age 11. She was diagnosed with an eating disorder at age 12 and eventually had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital after refusing all food and drink. “When something like this happens of course you ask yourself questions – is it something we did? I’m not a perfect mother but I think I did a good job…” she told The Telegraph. “From everything we know, the predisposition to eating disorders is genetic but it is the environment that pulls the trigger.”

So what’s a mom to do? We certainly can’t shield our children from celebrity culture but a good start would be to set a positive example. Last month we ran a piece about Joyce McFadden, psychoanalyst and author of Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women, who made a conscious decision not to criticize her own appearance around her teenaged daughter. It’s a small step with huge impact.

(Photo: Digital Vision)