Cases of young people suffering from eating disorders are rising. Even more worrying, those who are affected seem to be younger than ever before. Experts also predict that the actual number of cases is under-reported as many young people do not realise the extent of their problem.A new report has revealed that the widespread view of an eating disorder as an adolescent disease is a grave misconception. It has been reported that many children under 16 are currently being treated for eating disorders in the UK. This is in line with statistics released earlier this year, which revealed that 600 children under the age of 13 have been referred to hospitals with a life threatening eating disorder in the past two years. It was found that across 35 hospitals, 197 children receiving treatment for an eating disorder were aged between five and nine, and 400 were between the ages of 10 and 12. However, this new report provides further shocking figures indicating that these under thirteen’s can in fact be as young and 3 years of age.
In the Lancashire area alone, 2011 saw two six-year-olds, four seven-year-olds and one three-year-old being referred for life-saving eating disorder treatment. All of these shocking figures come with a warning from health bosses that they only reflect the very tip of the iceberg, with an estimated 80% of childhood eating disorders going undetected. Child psychiatrist Dr Malcolm Bourne says that it can take up to two and a half years for a child to identify and seek treatment for their problem, by which time a lot of irreversible physical and mental damage is already done.
Doctors are once again laying some of the blame for these high figures on the fact that the media continue to promote the ‘perfect’ body, with images of airbrushed celebrities being idolised by youngsters. Dr Dasha Nicholls, an expert in adolescent mental health, says that eating disorders ‘may be the start of a severe and enduring illness’ for young children, with an estimated 5% of child sufferers eventually dying from the disease.
Director of the children’s mental health charity YoungMinds, Lucie Russell, says that ‘not eating or over-eating is a way for young people to feel like they have some control. Bulimia is about comfort eating because you feel awful about yourself, and then being sick because you feel guilty about eating. Anorexia is about having control.’ She suggests that in order to affectively rehabilitate these children, both girls and boys, it is crucial to treat both the mental disorder with appropriate therapies, and the nutritional aspect of the disease by implementing eating regimes that allow the child to maintain some level of control.
Zara Lochrie 2012