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A Major Crisis, Eating Disorders and Children

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

So, as a parent, you believe your children are free of weight and body image problems until they are well into adolescence. There is comfort in the thought that there is no need to worry about Anorexia until the children get older. Sadly, this is not true.

According to an article published in December, 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the rate of eating disorders among children 12 years old and younger has dramatically increased since 1999. To be more specific, the affected children are dieting because they are worried about gaining weight and already have body image problems. What is even more startling about this is that the affected children are hospitalized because when they reach a dangerously low weight. Why is this happening?

The Media:

For many years, Hollywood and the media have been blamed for showing images of women who are very skinny. As a result, women came to associate beauty with thinness. Looking at photos of Marlyn Monroe, the sex symbol of the 1950’s, reveals a woman who was heavy by today’s standards.
Today, actresses and fashion industry models, on television and popular magazines all must be thin. This has become so exaggerated that some of the best known models have died from malnutrition.

According to eating disorder experts, there is nothing that concerned parents can do about the media. Instead, they point to parental behaviors around food that have a profound influence on children of all ages.

Children learn a great deal by parent role modelling. In other words, those mothers who have both body image and eating disorder problems convey those attitudes to their daughters. Its important to understand that this has nothing to do about teaching or directly influencing children. Rather, the messages about eating and thinness are conveyed subtlety and non verbally. Perhaps this is why these disorders seem to run in families.

Because of the non verbal nature of these messages about weight, mothers are often unaware of the fact that they and their child have a problem. This is a major characteristic of Anorexia. Those with Anorexia may look in a mirror and see themselves as fat even when they emaciated.

Research has shown that early intervention for both mothers and children can reverse the affects of anorexia. Of course, part of the problem is helping parents become aware of this before their child needs hospitalization. Everyone from pediatricians to family and friends can help bring awareness to the affected parents.

Part of the purpose of this article is to raise awareness of the problem. If you suspect that you, your children, family members or friends are losing radical amounts of weight, enlighten them. Eating disorders are dangerous and can lead to physical damage and death.

Have you or your family been affected by this? Please tell us about it by posting your comments at the end of the article. Your participation is strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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