Eating Disorders Start Earlier Than Previously Believed

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girl-not-liking-saladA new study challenges many of the beliefs about eating disorders that are so prevalent in modern society. Typically, it is thought that eating disorder do not present themselves until after puberty, when social pressures about appearance can be strongest. But the new report says eating disorders can begin well before puberty and appear to be more closely linked to other mental health issues than social forces.

The team of researchers from the University of Montreal evaluated 215 children between the ages of 8 and 12 with eating disorders. Over 15 percent of their children evaluated reported making themselves vomit occasionally, with approximately 13 percent exhibiting bulimic-like behaviors. More than half of the children had been hospitalized due to eating problems, and 48 percent had received outpatient treatment.

“Many researchers believe that bulimia only appears at adolescence, but our (findings) indicate that the problem can arise much earlier. It is possible that it is currently under-diagnosed due to a lack of awareness and investigation,” study leader Dominique Meilleur, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Montreal, said in a university news release.

The findings showed that psychiatric problems were present in 36 percent of the children’s families and many children already showed symptoms for other mental illnesses such as anxiety, mood, and attention disorders. However, social behavior was also cited.

Nearly 23 percent of children involved in the study reported being mocked or insulted about their appearance, according to the results presented Oct. 7 at a meeting of the Eating Disorders Association of Canada.

“For some children, bullying can initiate or reinforce body image preoccupations and possibly lead to a change in eating behavior,” Meilleur said.

Ninety-five percent of the children in the study had restrictive eating behaviors, 69 percent worried about putting on weight, and nearly 47 percent described themselves as “fat.”

“These behaviors reflect the clinical presentations we observe in adolescents and support findings that body image is a preoccupation for some children as early as elementary school,” Meilleur said.

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