Even Young Children Can Develop Eating Disorders

Many people think that only teens or young adults have eating disorders. In reality, though, they are becoming increasingly common even in young children.

In fact, eating disorders are more prevalent in children than type 2 diabetes, which has been widely regarded as a childhood health crisis, according to Epidemiology of Eating Disorders. Hospitalization of children under 12 with eating disorders increased 119% from 1999-2000 to 2005-2006, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Walden Behavioral Care offers one of the nation’s only dedicated treatment programs for children (ages six to 12) and families affected by all forms of eating disorders.

Eating Disorders In Children

Children are impressionable from an early age. They can easily be influenced by the actions and thoughts of parents, older siblings, friends and others, especially in their behavior around food or their perceived appearance. One study cited by the National Eating Disorders Association found that 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. Another found that 46% of 9 to 11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets.

In a British national surveillance study of children under age 13, overall incidence of eating disorders was 3%. Among these, 37% of children met the criteria for anorexia nervosa, 1.4% for bulimia nervosa and 43% for other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED).

Furthermore, picky eating – normal among infants and toddlers – can persist into mid- to late-childhood. In these cases, children are susceptible to avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), also known as “extreme picky eating.” ARFID is most common in infants and children, affecting an estimated 5% of children. Preliminary statistics show it may be more prevalent in boys than in girls, according to Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. An estimated 3.2% of the general population suffers from ARFID, including 14 – 22.5% of children in pediatric treatment programs for any type of eating disorder (Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment).

Among children, the ratio of females to males diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia is 5:1, according to a study by the Public Health Agency of Canada. This is a much smaller gap compared with adolescents and adults (10:1).

There is Help

It may be hard to believe that a young child can develop an eating disorder, but parents should be aware that it happens.

Physicians who do not specialize in treating eating disorders may even be missing the diagnosis in some cases.

The earlier an eating disorder is diagnosed and treated, the higher the probability of recovery. Researchers from Newcastle University in England found that children with symptoms of eating disorders at age nine had a higher number of symptoms at age 12.

Early intervention can potentially save your child’s life. It you think your child may have an eating disorder, it’s important to get an opinion from a specialist who treats eating disorders.

A Specialized Pediatric Program for Children with Eating Disorders

Walden Behavioral Care offers New England’s only specialized intensive outpatient (IOP) and outpatient programming for children (ages 6-12) and families impacted by all types of eating and feeding disorders, including Avoidant / Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED).

Our Pediatric Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) meets three days a week, with structured and activity-based individual, family and group therapy. Our goal is providing your family with skills to improve eating behaviors and parents with the knowledge to be the best system to facilitate to a lasting recovery.

Our program includes:

  • Innovative Family-Based Therapy: Parents become an active part of the treatment team, with weekly family sessions empowering you to make the most effective nutritional and nourishment decisions for your child.
  • Therapy that works: Our pediatric programming is rooted in evidence-based treatment, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
  • A dedicated treatment team: This includes therapists and mental health counselors supporting you every step of the treatment process.
  • Extensive support & guidance: Coached family meals, parent support groups, mindfulness moments, outpatient coordination and more.

Walden’s pediatric program is available in Waltham, Mass., Peabody, Mass., Braintree, Mass., Worcester, Mass., Milford, Mass., and Amherst, Mass.

Family-Based Eating Disorder Therapy Helps Children and Families Recover

Family-based therapy (FBT) is the focal point of Walden’s pediatric treatment program. We want families to be engaged and empowered. When they are, recovery happens.

We provide parents and other family members with the education, skills and resources to best support their child, from the most challenging days all the way through recovery.

In fact, we consider parents and families to be the most important members of our treatment team. They take an active role in programming and, in lower levels of care, they participate in group and individual therapy. We provide a high level of transparency and collaboration during your child’s treatment.

For those receiving intensive outpatient care, Walden hosts family-based therapy three days a week, not just one day a week, like traditional family-based programs. Walden also uses family-based therapy for individuals with all types of eating disorders, including bulimia, binge eating disorder and ARFID.

Regain Your Life. Walden Can Help.

If you are concerned that your child may have an eating disorder, or if you have concerns for a loved one or a friend, do something about it. Please call 781-647-6727 to speak with a Walden eating disorders intake specialist or complete the form on this page.

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