Alarming new figures from 35 NHS hospitals in England, show, that more than 2.100 children were treated for eating disorders before they reached their 16th birthday. What is more these figures are believed to be an underestimate, as some NHS hospitals refused to provide any data, and most of those that did, only revealed figured for those hospitalized, excluding figures for those undergoing psychiatric care as outpatients. While a number of factors combine to trigger eating disorders, increasing cultural pressures are believed to be a significant contributing factor in this regrettable trend.
According to Susan Ringwood, chief executive of eating disorders charity, B-eat believes that children are very susceptible to the pernicious messages and cultural pressures in today’s society, and likely to internalize messages from those celebrity magazines that idealize extreme thinness.
The significance of societal messages
Societal messages are undoubtedly one significant factor in the increasing hospitalization of children suffering with eating disorders. ‘The ideal figure promoted for women these days is that of a girl, not an adult woman’, says Mrs Ringwood, who warns, that many children come to fear puberty and the bodily changes that naturally occur, seeing them almost attempting to stave it off. Shielding our children from these harmful messages can prove nearly impossible, but being mindful of the way in which, we as parents relate to, and communicate about our body image, can set a positive example for our children. What the NHS found was that almost half of those diagnosed with eating disorders by the age of 12 had a close family member with a mental health problem, such as an eating disorder, anxiety, or depression. This confirms the significance of a healthy familial environment.
Those GPs that understand the complexity of eating disorders and are familiar with the diagnostic criteria are able to provide concerned parents with treatment referral and useful information. Although the media have reported of numerous cases in which GPs have failed to detect signs and symptoms in sufferers that do not neatly fall into any one eating disorder category, increasing societal awareness of eating disorders, have equipped more concerned parents with the necessary information to seek proper treatment for their child.
Prevention is better than cure. And if only we knew how to eating disorder proof our children, we would not be facing this growing concern. A number of factors combine to trigger eating disorders; biology and genetics play a significant part in their development, but so do cultural pressures. One might say that the predisposition to eating disorders is genetic but that it is the environment that pulls the trigger. It is vital that parents recognize where they able to positively influence their child. While societal pressures are beyond our control, creating a family environment in which mom or dad do not diet, over-exercise or openly voice their body hang-ups, can help the developing child weather some of the pressures from peers and the media. Eating disorders are serious psychological disorders that quickly become a family problem. Early detection is vital, so if you suspect that you, or someone you know have an eating disorder address your concern and reach for help as eating disorders can be successfully treated.