Eating Disorders in School Age Children: Causes and Treatments

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Eating Disorders in School Age Children

According to a report compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) there was a drastic increase of hospitalizations of school age children with eating disorders from 1999 to 2006. With such a huge rise numbers, it has many parents, care givers, teachers and coaches concerned.

Eating Disorders in School Age Children: Causes

Many people are convinced that one of the main eating disorder causes is an increasing pressure to be thin from a society that bombards us with ‘perfect’ images of people in television shows, magazines, commercials and movies.

As some children become conditioned to seeing these images they begin to associate and identify with them. If they notice they are not quite as ‘good’ as what they see on television they view themselves in a negative light. Added to this are the seemingly endless supplies of commercials about weight loss or diets, which slowly start to convince some young minds that dieting is the way to lose weight and feel and be attractive. In a study by Harvard Medical School a definite link was found between television and eating disorders. Dr. Anne Becker discovered that children who lived in Fiji with televisions in their homes were 3 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who didn’t have TVs.

Another posited cause of eating disorders in school age children is believed to be peer pressure. Younger children can be very mean if they find a reason to pick on another child, and larger children can be easy targets for classroom bullies.

Being called “fat” or “chubby” can damage a child’s self-esteem which may lead to the dangerous cycle of eating disorders. But it’s not only other children who are the problem, eating disorders can also be brought on by well-meaning parents, teachers or coaches who believe they are encouraging healthy eating patterns. While they believe their comments and actions are harmless they are in fact, the opposite and just encouraging the eating disorder and bad eating habits.

Eating Disorders in School Age Children: Treatments

If an eating disorder is suspected, the child’s pediatrician should immediately be notified. Because there is a younger child involved, a pediatrician should be made aware of what is going on so they will be able to assist the parents in what course they should take as far as treatment is concerned.

One treatment that is used for treating eating disorders in school age children is therapy or counseling with a licensed professional trained to work specifically with younger kids with eating disorders. This may be one-on-one counseling, or if it is recommended, family counseling may be advised. Pediatricians may also combine therapy and the use of certain medications to help the child overcome their eating disorder. There are several different antidepressants and other medicines that are safe for children to take. If parents are concerned they should voice their concerns to their child’s doctor who may be able to recommend other alternatives or help educate the parent on those medicines that are safe.

Meeting with a nutritionist may also be advised. A nutritionist can help the parents and the child develop a healthy eating plan. This will help instill better eating habits and show the child there are better ways to get into shape and be healthy. This is an important step as it helps a child learn how to eat the right kinds of healthy and nutritious foods for the rest of their life.

For more severe cases, some children may need to be put into a treatment facility designed specifically for children with eating disorders. Here, children are closely monitored by doctors and psychologists to check on progress and ensure recovery. A child’s doctor will be able to assist parents in finding a good facility that can provide a child with the help they need to get on the path to recovery.


References Used: American Academy of Pediatrics, and Keep Kids Healthy.