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Eating Disorders in Children and Teens

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Eating Disorders in Children and Teens

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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.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At December 10, 2018
Reviewed AtSeptember 28, 2022


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:

  • Low self-esteem.

  • Fear of getting fat.

What Are the Common Eating Disorders In Children and Teens?

Following are some of the common eating disorders.

  • Anorexia Nervosa:

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!

  • Bulimia Nervosa:

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.

  • Binge-Eating:

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.

  • Avoidant/ Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID):

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:

  • Unexplainable weight changes.

  • Low heart rate.

  • Fatigue.

  • Abnormalities in the heart rhythm.

  • Hormonal changes.

  • Breathing problems.

  • Hair loss.

  • Blood pressure changes.

  • Death.

Mental health concerns include:

  • Social isolation.

  • Loneliness.

  • Depression.

  • Anxiety.

  • Suicidal ideation.

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.


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.

Frequently Asked Questions


Which Age Group Is Most Likely to Develop an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are mostly reported in teenagers and young adults. The common age group is between 12 years to 25 years. Although eating disorders can affect both males and females, it is more prevalent among young females.


Which Disordered Eating Are Common in Adolescence?

Eating disorders common in adolescence are:
- Anorexia Nervosa: When a child or teen develops anorexia nervosa, they may be underweight yet still believe they are obese, leading them to starve themselves for a long period of time. Extremely low body weight, a reluctance to maintain a healthy weight, a distorted body image, the absence of menstruation in girls and women, and very disordered eating behavior are all signs of anorexia nervosa.
- Bulimia Nervosa: The adolescent with bulimia nervosa could be overweight or of normal weight. They might consume a lot of food, feel bad about it afterward, and then purge. This is a very unhealthy habit and can be potentially dangerous to health. 
- Binge-Eating: In binge eating disorder, the child may consume excessive food, perhaps up to 3000 calories at a time. It is possible that the child has no control over what they are  actually eating.
- Avoidant/ Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID):  People with this disorder either avoid or are not interested in food. They avoid eating because the smell, texture, color, or taste of the food turns them off rather than because they are worried about gaining weight. The majority of kids with this eating condition are underweight.


Does Age Play a Role in Eating Disorders?

Anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, or body type, can develop an eating disorder. Depending on the type of eating disorder, there are different physical, mental, and emotional symptoms from person to person. However, eating disorders are prevalent among children, teenagers, and young adults.


Why Is My Teenage Daughter Not Eating?

Eating disorders are prevalent among teenage girls and young women, which can be a common cause for not eating. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are the three most prevalent eating disorders.


What Factors Influence the Development of Eating Disorders?

Some of the factors that influence the development of eating disorders are:
- Age: Eating disorders are more common in children and young adults.
- Sex: Eating disorders are more prevalent among females.
- Family History: An individual's tendency to develop an eating disorder may be increased by genetic factors. 
- Mental Health: Individuals with other mental disorders are prone to develop eating disorders.


What Is the Solution for Eating Disorders?

Depending on the type and unique demands, many treatments are available for eating disorders.
- Psychotherapy.
- Medication.
- Nutrition counseling. 
- Maudsley approach.
All of these professionals working together to provide a thorough treatment that addresses the physical, emotional, and behavioral elements are frequently the best treatment strategy.


What Sport Has the Highest Rate of Eating Disorders?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders impact 33 percent of male athletes who compete in esthetic sports and weight-class sports. These sports include the following:
- Bodybuilding.
- Swimming.
- Gymnastics.
- Wrestling.
- Owing.


Which Psychological Problem Is Often Associated With Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa, like most other eating disorders, is often associated with psychological problems and mental disorders. Psychological problems that can lead to anorexia nervosa include the following:
- Depression.
- Anxiety.
- Mood disorders.


When Treating a Person With an Eating Disorder, the First Priority Is?

The first priority when treating a person with an eating disorder is to attain a healthy body weight. The next steps include the following:
- Medical care and safety.
- Prevention of the development of other medical conditions.
- Formulating an effective treatment plan for the specific eating disorder.


What Is One of the Defining Characteristics of Anorexia Nervosa?

Characteristic features of anorexia nervosa include the following:
- Abnormally low body weight.
- Irrational fear of gaining weight or getting obese.
- Failure to maintain healthy body weight.
- Distorted perception of body weight.
- Body image issues.
- Starvation.


What Does Anorexia Do to the Brain?

Anorexia can lead to malnutrition of the body, frequently affecting the brain and its functioning. People with anorexia have altered serotonin pathways, a different reward response, and a different manner of reacting to feedback. These disparities exist in anorexics with active disorder and those who have been free of anorexia for a long time.


Can Anorexia Be Fully Cured

Anorexia can be treated and managed with an effective treatment plan, and the individual suffering from the condition can successfully attain a healthy body weight and prevent the development of other health conditions. However, the risk of relapse of anorexia is also very high. So a person who has been successfully treated for anorexia can easily develop the condition again. Consequently, recovery from anorexia typically requires long-term treatment in addition to a person's strong dedication.


Is the Rate of Anorexia Increasing?

Yes, the rate of anorexia has increased among children, teenagers, and young adults. Although the incidence rate has been stable in other age groups for the past few years. The rate of anorexia has especially increased in individuals under 15 years of age.
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Quadros Krystel Godfrey Lavina
Quadros Krystel Godfrey Lavina



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