The average onset of eating disorders in children unfortunately has decreased to age 12 (was 13-14). It is important that we notice the symptoms in children with eating disorders because they often present much differently than adolescents and adults.
The Emily Program, an eating disorder treatment center, states that 42% of 1st to 3rd grade girls want to be thinner and 81% of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat. Additionally, the most common form of bullying is about body size and/or appearance.
In these younger children, ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder) and anorexia are most common. Binge-eating and bulimia are less often seen in this age group. 20-30% of ARFID patients are male with an even earlier onset of age 11.
With teens and adults, we often see a multitude of symptoms based on their diagnosis. For example, muscle loss, thinning hair, brittle bones, weight loss. However, for children symptoms present differently.
Growth is the very first thing impacted by an eating disorder in children. Average growth for a child is 2-3 inches and 5-7 pounds per inch each year. Therefore, if there is a decrease in growth, a medical evaluation is crucial to determine if the child has an eating disorder, allergy, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, etc.
Eating disorders during this time can be extremely detrimental to a child’s health. 50% of bone mass is made between ages 12-18, and bone loss is irreversible. Weight loss causes muscle loss, and the heart is the largest muscle. Therefore, a individual’s heart function is also severely impacted.
Eating disorders in children present much differently than they do in teens and adults. If your child has fallen of his or her growth curve, talk to your pediatrician and consider seeing a dietitian to correct the problem as soon as possible.
Tanner, Anna. Presentation at Veritas Symposium: Eating Disorders in Children. September 14, 2018. Atlanta, Georgia.