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Portia Di Rossi and Kelly Osborne are just a handful of the women who have come out publicly about their eating disorders in recent weeks, so much so that it is hardly a surprise anymore when a pin-thin celeb confesses what we already guessed anyhow. But what many people miss is that quite often their eating disorder began in childhood. And according to a new report published in the journal Pediatrics, they aren't alone as the incidence of pediatric eating disorders is on the rise. Not only are more children showing signs of anorexia, bulimia and other patterns of disordered eating but the average age is getting younger.
According to the report, issued Monday, 0.5 percent of adolescent girls have anorexia with an additional 1 to 2 percent meeting the criteria for bulimia. Increases were also seen in boys and in kids under the age of 12. The report focuses mainly on what pediatricians should do to address the issue rather than speculating about what would cause a child to develop an eating disorder but given our current climate of diet hysteria it isn't hard to see how a kid would get the idea that food is bad. Some parents are even so worried about their "fat" babies that they're putting infants on diets!
Any parent knows that kids are much smarter than we give them credit for. For instance, if a child sees mommy refusing the delicious dinner she cooked for the family and instead morosely sipping a chalky diet shake she won't understand that it's a last-ditch effort to lose the last ten pounds but rather that if mommy doesn't eat then she shouldn't either.
In addition to imitating mom and dad and possibly older siblings, the media feeds us a steady stream of diet talk ranging from dire news reports about the rising obesity epidemic to reality shows where contestants compete for liposuction, all interspersed with advertisements for diet pills. I even saw an ad for "the number 1 tip to a flat belly" on the website where my 8-year-old was playing math games.
Add in a child's innate personality, many studies have linked perfectionism to a higher incidence of eating disorders, and you have a perfect storm for food dysfunction. It's a fine line we walk between teaching our children how to be healthy and pushing them over the edge into poor body image and guilt over eating. Yet it's an important distinction for parents, pediatricians, teachers and others who profoundly influence our kids to learn as the stakes are even higher for little bodies still in their primary phase of growth and brain development. Malnutrition in childhood from any cause leads to lifelong difficulties ranging from bone loss to digestive issues to mental illness.
Just in case you think that children don't know that thin equals good, while waiting for a parent-teacher conference last week, I scanned the self-portraits each third-grader had hung on their locker. At the bottom they were supposed to write what they want to be when they grow up. One little girl wrote "skinny."
Why do you think eating disorders in children are on the rise? Chime in below!