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Children and Eating Disorders

Sari Fine Shepphird, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and author of 100 Questions & Answers about Anorexia Nervosa, offers these thoughts on children and eating disorders: It is disconcerting indeed that patients with eating disorders are seemingly getting younger. The emphasis on thinness in our culture has only gotten stronger in the past decade. Children are exposed to greater amounts of media and role models, including children’s role models, are themselves feeling a greater pressure toward thinness. Parents also feel that pressure to a greater degree and perhaps unwittingly convey their own body image concerns to their kids through their actions and words.

Parents may want to let their child’s pediatrician know if they notice any unusual behaviors around food. Picky eating is normal for children, but any behaviors that persist or seem odd or extreme should be brought to their doctor’s attention. Feeding disorders of childhood can be ruled out by their doctors, and treatment is important. Such disorders can also be precursors to later eating disorders.

Parents should be sure to start their kids off early with a healthy approach to eating, rather than a restrictive one. Children naturally have hunger and fullness cues that help to regulate their eating. These cues can become skewed if children are made to feel guilty for eating a healthy diet, or if unhealthy behaviors around food are modeled in the home.