Does your child have an eating disorder?
The answer to that question may be hard to pin down, said Dr. Michael Visker, a pediatrician at Alewife Brook Community Pediatrics.
Millions of children—girls and boys—have some kind of eating disorder. And the rate of children under 12 who were admitted to the hospital for an eating disorder has risen 119 percent, according to statistics at the Eating Recovery Center.
This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a time of reflection on this topic’s vast scope.
“It can be tricky to figure out if a child has an eating disorder,” Dr. Visker said. “It is a little more obvious with anorexia because the results are very obvious with extreme weight loss and nutrition problems.”
Other eating disorders include binge eating, purging or bulimia and obsessive-compulsive eating.
Symptoms of an eating disorder can be subtle. A child may skip meals, making excuses for why he or she can’t eat. The child may eat very small amounts and obsess over the type of food being consumed. They may go to the bathroom after eating or compulsively exercise to burn through their caloric intake.
They may be obsessed with how they look, Dr. Visker said. “Parents don’t always pick up on it until the weight loss is so significant.”
Many eating disorders present concurrently with mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, but this is not always the case.
Sometimes it’s a perfect storm, so to speak. A teen may be involved in activities like ballet, athletics, or modeling that have rigid physical requirements. Some teens are perfectionists, and combined with these activities, an eating disorder could manifest.