Eating disorders are not commonly talked about because of the stigma that surround them. When it comes to eating disorders in children there have been even more stigmas throughout history. Luckily, most of these misconceptions have disappeared as we have learned as a society. Today we are going to talk about the common eating disorders in children.
In general, it is harder to see eating disorders in children. Children tend to have smaller bodies and are in the process of growing. That means their bodies change. Change during aging can include gaining and losing weight. By the time that a child loses significant weight (or gains significant weight) due to an eating disorder it can already be a serious condition.
Children as young as age 7 can be diagnosed with an eating disorder. More children are being diagnosed with eating disorders in the recent years. It isn’t completely known why eating disorders are diagnosed more often now but there are a couple of factors that we do know. A reduced stigmatization around eating disorders and mental health in general have contributed to this. With Instagram and other photo-based social media there is a heavy focus on body image among children.
What Eating Disorders Are Common in Children?
Children can develop any number of eating disorders. There are three eating disorders that are more commonly diagnosed in children though.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Children who have avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder don’t eat because they are afraid of what might happen from the intake of the food. It can also be due to sensory issues during the intake of food.
Anorexia Nervosa (AN)
Anorexia is one of the most well-known eating disorders in both adults and children. For those with anorexia nervosa, they are afraid to eat because of how it will affect their body image. They often have a very low body weight. One that is unhealthy.
Eating Disorder Not Elsewhere Categorized (EDNEC)
With children it can be hard to diagnose eating disorders because they may not be able to express themselves properly or because they may present differently. It is common for children to be diagnosed with eating disorder not elsewhere categorized because they don’t meet the full criteria of some of the existing definitions of eating disorders.
Treating Eating Disorders in Children
The preferred way to treat eating disorders in children is to have a family-centered approach. Parents will be educated in nutrition and methods to encourage their children to eat. It will become the parents job to take on food management for their children, even more so than normal.
Therapy with the child is also a common practice when treating eating disorders in children. A number of therapy techniques are used to help with treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one example of a therapy treatment that is used for children.
For older children (those in their teens) with serious symptoms, it may be necessary to have inpatient treatment at a specialized facility. This will help them to establish proper eating habits. It will also help them on the path to establishing a healthy weight.
No matter what treatment route your child takes, it should be monitored by a pediatrician. This will help to ensure that the proper level of care is received. Other professionals may be brought in such as nutritionists or dieticians.
Medical Complications of Eating Disorders in Children
Many parents are concerned about the long-term complications that may arise from eating disorders. In most cases medical complications will go away when the eating disorder is treated. Prolonged malnutrition from eating disorders can cause a lack of growth and have other side effects. In most cases children are more resilient than adults and as long as treatment is received, there will be no life-long impacts to their health.
Children are harder to diagnose for eating disorders and can also be harder to treat for eating disorders. It is important to catch eating disorders as soon as possible. Eating disorders become more severe, the longer they go untreated. They also are harder to treat.