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Childhood Eating Disorders
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Australian children as young as five are presenting with eating disorders, but could this be the beginnings of anorexia nervosa and what are the long-term effects on their health?
This is what researchers at the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit, based at the Childrenís Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, are attempting to find out. They are currently gathering data from paediatricians around the country in order to analyse data on a range of conditions, including early-onset eating disorders.
While recent media reports have quoted figures and age averages in relation to this study, the study is in fact only half-way through, with one more year to go before conclusive results can be expected.
The study is yet to review whether or not the youngest children do in fact have anorexia or are suffering from some other form of an eating disorder, such as the carry-over effect of feeding difficulties from infancy or premature birth.
Donna Rose, the Scientific Coordinator of the study at the APSU, explained that children as young as eight are presenting with the mindset of an anorexic particularly fearing weight gain and therefore avoiding food.
Ms Rose points out that, while these disorders are relatively rare in young children, children who are losing weight and failing to grow may suffer from negative consequences to their long-term health.
What to Look Out For
Parents of fussy or finicky eaters may be concerned that their child has an eating disorder. If your child is of normal height and weight for their age, and is growing normally, it is likely that they are getting the nutrition they need. Express any concerns that you have to your GP or paediatrician.
Some symptoms of an eating disorder that you can look out for in your child include:
For more information on the symptoms and causes of eating disorders, see www.eatingdisorders.org.au.
Support from Parents and Adults
Encouraging children to have a healthy lifestyle and nurturing their self-esteem can help to prevent the onset of an eating disorder. Even young children are subjected to a plethora of images in the media that may have an impact on their perception of themselves.
It is important for parents to be open and communicative about the role that the media plays in our society and to impress upon their children that health and vitality are equally, if not more important, than the way their body looks.
Here are some other ideas for encouraging a healthy attitude towards food and body image:
Last updated: September 2nd, 2003
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