Did you know that the peak onset of eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, occur during puberty and the late teen years, but symptoms can occur as young as kindergarten? In addition, a recent analysis by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality revealed that from 1999 to 2006, hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 years of age increased by 119 percent.
With the week of February 20th designated for National Eating Disorder Awareness, it’s important for parents to know the warning signs of a child with an eating disorder and recognize when the occasional comment, “Mom, I’m so fat!” becomes something more serious.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), the top warning signs of eating disorders are:
- Losing a significant amount of weight when no diet plan is needed or has been discussed
- Distorted body image—the child feels “fat” even when she’s very thin
- Continuing to diet even once she’s thin
- Fear of weight gain
- Amenorrhea(losing monthly menstrual periods)
- Being preoccupied with food, calories, nutrition, and/or cooking
- Exercising compulsively
- Bingeing and purging
If you feel that your child has an eating disorder, contact your pediatrician about the symptoms you are observing. Be sure to utilize the eating disorder resources in the Greater Philadelphia area and online. NEDA offers the online Parent family friend network (PFN). PFN offers support to those whose loved ones are struggling with an eating disorder. This free program brings people together to share information, resources and awareness across the country. To connect with a PFN member, email firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition, the American Anorexia Bulimia Association of Philadelphia, offers free monthly eating disorder support group meetings at The Belmont Center, located at 4200 Monument Ave, Philadelphia. For more information, call 215- 877- 2000
For residential as well as outpatient eating disorder treatment, parents should contact the nationally recognized Renfrew Center, with locations in Philadelphia and Radnor. The Renfrew programs empower individuals to actively participate in their own growth and recovery. For more information, go to www.renfrewlocations.comor call 1-800-RENFREW.
Most of all, parents should never ignore the warning signs of an eating disorder and think that it’s just a phase that will pass. When left untreated, children with long term eating disorders can develop life-threatening cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems.