The Rise of Anorexia in Children

The incidence of anorexia in children appears to be increasing. As with anorexia in adolescents and adults, pre-pubescent anorexia is a biologically-based illness (i.e. genetic) that is typically triggered by social and emotional factors. Increased rates of the disease in children may in part be due to societal messages about body ideals and dieting trends coupled with the dramatic increase in exposure to this messaging via social media.   

How Social Media Contributes to the Rise of Anorexia in Children

In a web-based article, Anorexic before the age of 13: What parents need to know, Rebecca Peebles, Co-Director of the Eating Disorder program at CHOP, shares her concern that the prevalence and range of nutrition and dieting guidance via social media channels can be dangerous for many who are vulnerable. Younger children now are exposed to an increasingly diet-conscious society and at the same time are bombarded with altered, edited and photo-shopped images of perfection.  It’s not surprising that eating disorders are emerging earlier. 

Media messages “inspire” many, for better or for worse. But in the wrong hands, diet and fitness messaging can be problematic. A well-intentioned effort to follow nutrition or dieting advice can quickly turn rigid or extreme and can evolve into a full-blown eating disorder in no time. In fact, often those we see in treatment for anorexia describe the onset of the disorder soon after starting an innocent diet or “health kick.” What might have been an initial reasonable and moderate effort, quickly spiraled out of control. 

The Importance of Early Detection

Fortunately, with early detection and intervention, children can achieve a full recovery. Mima Simic, Joint Head at Maudsley Hospital in West London, a facility responsible for changing the way eating disorders are treated around the world, states, “This is one of the most rewarding conditions in child psychiatry because you can have a full recovery.”  Researchers from Simic’s  Maudsley Hospital developed Family-Based Treatment which is considered the gold-standard treatment for children with eating disorders.   

At Columbus Park, we use FBT (“Maudsley Treatment”) as a first line for our patients, ages 5-18. And we find that the younger the patient, the faster the recovery. The results can be truly remarkable and life changing for families. For more information about our Family-Based Interventions, click here.