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Eating Disorders On The Rise

February 24, 2011

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 20-26, 2011). Around this time last year I told you about NEDA and the importance of raising awareness about these serious, life-threatening illnesses. Unfortunately, rates of eating disorders are on the rise, especially in children and adolescents. In the last decade, hospitalizations for eating disorders more than doubled for children under 12 years. And here are some more statistics:

  • 0.5 percent of adolescent girls in the US have Anorexia Nervosa (AN)
  • 1-2 percent of adolescents meet the criteria for Bulimia Nervosa (BN)
  • 0.8-14 percent of eating disorder patients have Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)
  • Up to 5-10 percent of eating disorder cases are in boys

Scary to think that there are so many children and tweens suffering from eating disorders when most of the time all we hear about is the opposite side of the spectrum – childhood obesity.

So what could be causing this rise? It’s a good question and one that needs to be further researched, but here are some of my hypotheses:

  • Puberty is happening earlier and eating disorders are very often activated by puberty.
  • Pediatricians are getting better at diagnosing eating disorders.
  • Mothers of children and tweens grew up with an overemphasis on thinness, which is getting passed on to their children.
  • The focus on childhood obesity is creating a fear of gaining weight.
  • Cues to be concerned about weight and appearance are being delivered at younger ages.
  • Parental feeding styles impact children’s food intake. Children are more likely to be over- or underweight when their parents tell them to “clean their plates.”

Regardless of why the rates of eating disorders are rising, something needs to be done. More nutrition education in schools, greater parental involvement in children’s lives, and acceptance of children of all shapes and sizes are just some of the ways to make a difference.

If you live in New York City, watch NY1 the week of March 13th to see me interviewed on this very topic!

What do you think is causing the rise in eating disorders? How do you help create eating disorder awareness?

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