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Bulimia to Anorexia Nervosa: Know types of eating disorders among children

Eating disorders, prevalent among children of various ages, peak in mid-to-late adolescence due to puberty, social pressures, and identity formation. Early intervention and holistic approaches are crucial for recovery.

Rahul Pratyush Written By: Rahul Pratyush New Delhi Published on: February 27, 2024 13:53 IST
eating disorders among children
Image Source : GOOGLE Know types of eating disorders among children

Eating disorders can affect children across various age groups, but the prevalence and specific types of eating disorders may vary. Generally, adolescence is considered a high-risk period for the development of eating disorders. According to research, the age group most commonly affected by eating disorders is typically in mid-to-late adolescence, with the highest incidence occurring between the ages of 15 and 18.

Key factors contributing to the increased risk of eating disorders during adolescence include:

Puberty and body changes: Adolescence is marked by significant physical and hormonal changes. The pressure to conform to societal standards of beauty, coupled with the physical changes during puberty, can contribute to body dissatisfaction and the development of eating disorders.

Social influences: Peer relationships and societal expectations play a crucial role during adolescence. Adolescents may be more susceptible to the influence of peers and media messages, leading to a heightened focus on appearance, weight, and body image.

Identity formation: Adolescence is a period of identity exploration and formation. Individuals may develop coping mechanisms, including disordered eating, as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or a desire for control.

While eating disorders can manifest in children as young as six years old, the rates are lower in the younger age group. However, it is essential to note that early-onset eating disorders can have severe consequences and may require specialised intervention.

Prevention and early intervention efforts should be targeted across all age groups, with an emphasis on promoting healthy body image, fostering positive relationships with food, and addressing emotional well-being. Parents, caregivers, teachers, and healthcare professionals play critical roles in creating supportive environments and identifying warning signs early on.

According to Dr Arti Singh Consultant nutrition and dietitian, Motherhood Hospitals Kharghar Mumbai, it's important to approach the understanding of eating disorders with a holistic perspective, recognising that these disorders can impact individuals of various ages, backgrounds, and gender identities. Early intervention and comprehensive treatment are key components in addressing eating disorders effectively and promoting long-term recovery.

Children who are poorly nourished tend to have weaker immune systems, which increases their chances of illness. They are more likely to develop certain long-term health problems. These include:

  • Bone thinning (osteoporosis) in later life.
  • Heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) diseases. Eating foods high in fat, sugar, and salt as a child can increase the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in adulthood.
  • Type 2 diabetes. In children, this disease is linked to being overweight, being physically inactive, and having a family history of type 2 diabetes.
  • Certain breathing problems, such as asthma in children who are overweight.

Being overweight puts children at risk for:

  • Liver problems.
  • Problems with hip development or bone growth in the legs.
  • Gallstones.
  • Early puberty.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome. This is a hormone imbalance that can cause problems with a girl's periods and other health problems.

Doctors regularly screen children for signs of these health problems.

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions characterised by irregular eating habits, distorted body image, and an obsessive focus on weight and food. These conditions can affect individuals of any age, gender, or background, and they often have severe physical and psychological consequences. In this article, we will explore the different types of eating disorders, their potential causes, common symptoms, and available treatment options.

Types of eating disorders

Anorexia nervosa:

  • Individuals with anorexia nervosa often have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image.
  • They may engage in extreme calorie restriction, excessive exercise, and other behaviours to achieve and maintain an unhealthily low body weight.
  • Common physical symptoms include brittle nails, thinning hair, and a range of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal issues.

Bulimia nervosa:

  • Bulimia nervosa is characterised by episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours such as vomiting, excessive exercise, or fasting.
  • People with bulimia may maintain a relatively normal weight, making it challenging to detect the disorder solely based on physical appearance.
  • Frequent episodes of bingeing and purging can lead to electrolyte imbalances, dental issues, and gastrointestinal problems.

Binge eating disorder (BED):

  • Binge eating disorder involves consuming large quantities of food in a short period, often accompanied by a lack of control during the episode.
  • Unlike bulimia, individuals with BED do not engage in compensatory behaviours, leading to weight gain and associated health problems.
  • Emotional distress, guilt, and shame commonly follow binge eating episodes.

Causes of eating disorders

Eating disorders are multifaceted, with various factors contributing to their development. Some common causes include:

Biological factors:

  • Genetic predisposition: Individuals with a family history of eating disorders may be more susceptible.
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances: Disturbances in brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine may play a role.

Psychological factors:

  • Low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction.
  • Perfectionism and societal pressure to conform to certain body ideals.
  • Coping mechanisms for stress, trauma, or emotional difficulties.

Environmental factors:

  • Societal influences, including media portrayal of body image and beauty standards.
  • Cultural attitudes towards weight, appearance, and food.
  • Childhood experiences, such as abuse or bullying.

Symptoms of eating disorders

Recognising the signs of eating disorders is crucial for early intervention. Common symptoms include:

  1. Drastic weight changes.
  2. Obsession with food, dieting, or body image.
  3. Frequent fluctuations in eating habits.
  4. Excessive exercise.
  5. Withdrawal from social activities.
  6. Development of rituals around food.

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