When you think of anorexia, you tend to think of a very thin teenage girl. However, startling new figures have recently come to light that shows that children as young as eight, sometimes even younger, are now being treated for anorexia at specialist clinics and the number of young anorexia sufferers is rising year on year.
Anorexia, full medical name anorexia nervosa, is an eating disorder characterised by an individual being 85% or less of their lowest acceptable ‘normal’ body weight, along with that individual being restrictive about their food intake, having incorrect perceptions of themselves, known as body dysmorphia, and cessation of menstruation if they above the age of puberty. Other personality traits are also indicative of having a predisposition to an eating disorder, including being a perfectionist, being hard-working, having artistic traits, being fussy around food and also having obsessions and compulsions to do with food.
Bulimia nervosa is also a type of anorexia, sharing much of the same traits, except patients binge and purge rather than restrict their food intake. And shockingly, more and more young children are beginning to develop incredibly debilitating eating disorders – in fact, new research shows that half of all anorexia sufferers will have developed the disorder by the age of 10. One third of sufferers will have developed anorexia by the age of 15, leaving just a small percentage of late teen and adult sufferers.
There are a number of different reasons that people may develop eating disorders. Some specialists blame thin celebrities in magazines and television programmes for the increase in anorexia cases – but this theory seems to be disproved by the sufferers themselves, with only three percent of sufferers believing that their anorexia is influenced heavily by the media.
Other theories tend to point towards home trauma being to blame for the increase in cases, such as a divorce, a new step-family or a bereavement in the family. Other doctors say that the increase in cases has been caused by ever-increasing pressure on families to stick together, the fact that meal-times as a family are now not considered a priority by many, and the fact that children are expected to mature and develop at a younger age. For example, much has recently been made in the media of how young girl’s clothes are becoming more and more sexualised, with bikinis now available for babies and inappropriate slogan t-shirts and crop tops now available for girls barely out of nappies. Perhaps children feel that they need to be a certain shape and size to fit these sorts of clothes. Peer pressure is also said to be to blame in some cases. Children who have a close circle of friends who are all a certain size of shape may feel pressure to get to the same shape as their friends.
Anorexia is a terribly damaging disease and research shows that people who enter into full-blown anorexia are unlikely to ever recover completely. It’s thought that up to 20% of sufferers of untreated eating disorders will eventually die from their illnesses. 3% of sufferers who get treatment will also die from their illness, 20% will remain dangerously underweight, 20% will make a partial recovery, and only 57% will make a full recovery. Anorexia in itself can also cause a huge number of other medical problems, such as kidney and liver disease, irregular heart rhythms and osteoporosis.
It’s therefore incredibly important for you to seek immediate medical attention if you think that your child may be displaying symptoms of anorexia. The earlier you seek treatment, the more likely that your child will make a full and healthy recovery.