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Eating Disorders in Children and Teens

Written by
Krystel Quadros
and medically reviewed by K. Shobana

Published on Dec 10, 2018 and last reviewed on May 10, 2022   -  4 min read

Abstract

Eating disorders have become very prevalent in children and teens, and it is now a topic of concern for many parents due to a variety of reasons. Read this article to learn more.

Contents
Eating Disorders in Children and Teens

Introduction:

One of the most common reasons for following faulty eating habits is due to the media. Teens want to look like their favorite actor or actress. According to various research studies, eating disorders are more prevalent in females than males. Eating disorders are known to develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but they can even develop in childhood.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders refer to the conditions where the individual has persistent unhealthy eating behaviors that can have a negative impact on their overall health and quality of life. Eating disorders are known to be one of the complex medical illnesses that are often overlooked as most of the children with this disorder are in the normal weight range. Most eating disorders are due to focusing more on weight and body shape resulting in a condition where the body is not able to meet the required nutrients. Eating disorders involve an unhealthy relationship with food, causing interference in their daily functioning.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

The exact cause of eating disorders is still not fully understood. It is considered that a combination of biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors play a role in causing eating disorders. There are chances for these young people to get influenced negatively by society and media that favor lean bodies to look good and healthy. Along with these factors, there can also be factors like:

What Are the Common Eating Disorders In Children and Teens?

Following are some of the common eating disorders.

In anorexia nervosa, the child or teen is underweight but still has a feeling that he/she is fat and might, therefore, starve themselves for an extended period. This is also accompanied by emotional problems like anxiety or depression. They might give different excuses for not eating. Children with anorexia might want to look like a model or an actress and feel that their figure is not up to the standard. It is therefore very important for parents of these children to have good communication with their children, telling them about the health hazards of not eating food for a long time. It is essential for these parents to educate their children about consuming a balanced diet as every nutrient plays a very important role in keeping us healthy. It is very important for parents themselves to act as role models for their kids by following a healthy diet and not following fad diets like fruit diet or salad diet as children tend to feel conscious about their bodies too looking at their parents. So do, be a role model for your children!

In the case of bulimia nervosa, the child may be of normal weight or overweight. He might eat a large quantity of food and then later feel guilty about it and purge. According to various studies, this regular purging behavior might lead them to develop dental caries due to regular exposure to hydrochloric acid in the mouth, which disrupts the enamel.

Parents should thus encourage their children to have nutritious and balanced meals on time so that they are not deprived of the essential nutrients needed for their growth and development. They can inculcate this habit in their kids by having a family meal together as it brings an emotional bonding between parents and children. At the same time, they can monitor their eating pattern and provide emotional support rather than yelling at their kids. This is essential to boost their confidence and prevent self-esteem issues.

In the case of binge-eating, the child might overeat a very high-calorie meal, maybe 3000 calories at a stretch within a short span of time. The child might not have control over what he is actually consuming. He might have three burgers, two pizzas, and a plate full of pasta with a lot of cheese toppings over it and still feel like consuming a soft drink. The child does this to overcome social isolation. Parents must, in this case, counsel the child well to boost the child’s self-esteem and teach them leadership skills. Consulting a nutritionist is of utmost importance in this case as the nutritionist might be able to counsel the child well on the health hazards of binge-eating as well as plan an appropriate diet according to the calories needed by the child.

In this type of disorder, the young people are not interested in food or avoid food. They are not afraid of gaining weight, but rather, they do not eat because they get turned off by the smell, texture, color, or taste of the food. Most children who are suffering from this eating disorder are underweight.

What Can Happen If My Child Engages in a Disorganized Eating Behavior?

Eating disorders can pose serious medical and mental health consequences, which can also become fatal when left untreated for long. Some of the common medical concerns associated with disorganized eating behaviors include:

Mental health concerns include:

How to Prevent Eating Disorders?

Here are a few ways you can follow to help your child avoid developing eating disorders.

1) Do not diet around your child or discuss dieting around them.

2) Plan a healthy lifestyle schedule for your children

3) Talk to them about the importance of healthy eating and the side effects of unhealthy eating habits.

If you still cannot manage or help improve their lifestyle, always seek the help of a pediatrician or healthcare professional.

Conclusion:

Eating disorders in children can be dangerous and can pose serious health problems which can be life-threatening. Eating disorders cannot be resolved just through willpower. Rather it requires treatment to restore normal eating and weight habits. However, treatment addresses the underlying cause, including psychological issues. You should be aware that any problem can be solved when addressed at the earliest stages.

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Last reviewed at:
10 May 2022  -  4 min read

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