Eating disorders in children and teenagers are becoming more common, with many developing problems between the ages of 11 and 13. Girls are 10 times more likely to suffer from an eating disorder than boys, but bulimia and anorexia treatment for boys is increasingly necessary.
What causes eating disorders in children?
The underlying reason for eating disorders is not always clear, but low self-esteem, emotional trauma, stress are thought to be factors. Some personality types, including perfectionists and high-achievers, are particularly at risk. Outside influences such as peer pressure and images of thin celebrities may also contribute to the development of eating disorders in children.
The major eating disorders
The two most common eating disorders are:
Anorexia, which involves under-eating and almost phobia-like attitudes towards food, with severe weight loss and nutritional deficiency
Bulimia, in which bingeing followed by purging is common. Bulimics overeat – a whole cake, packets of biscuits etc and then either induce vomiting or use laxatives
Apart from an obvious loss of weight, physical symptoms of anorexia may include loss of hair from your child’s head, poor teeth (the acid in vomit destroys the enamel), growth of fine hairs on your child’s body, feeling cold all the time, and delayed puberty. Behavioural symptoms of anorexia may include being obsessive and secretive about food, exercising excessively, having a distorted body image, using appetite suppressants and/or laxatives, and denying any issues with weight or food.
Anorexia can cause long-term health issues such as osteoporosis, infertility and heart disease. They are also potentially life-threatening. Early recognition and anorexia treatment are crucial to give your child the best chance of recovery and to minimise future risks.
Private anorexia treatment
Anorexia treatment is available within the NHS but the private sector offers specialised facilities and long term care, The main aims of anorexia treatment are to increase body weight and tackle the psychological issues underlying your child’s eating disorder. This involves long-term therapy – the average duration of anorexia treatment is about 6 years.
Anorexia treatment usually centres on talking therapies aimed at helping your child to identify the reasons why they stopped eating and develop a healthy attitude towards food and their body. Talking therapy that involves the whole family may also help you understand your child’s condition and help you learn how to support them during their recovery. Encouraging your child to keep a diary or join a support group may also be important elements of your child’s anorexia treatment.
Private anorexia treatment is available in a residential recovery centre, and can be one-on-one or group-based. Your child will receive both physical and psychological therapy from multiple professionals, including nutritionists/chefs and psychologists. Group therapy can be an important part of residential anorexia treatment, if your child’s specialist feels that meeting others undergoing similar anorexia treatment would be beneficial.
Anorexia treatment is only usually given in a hospital setting if your child has lost so much weight that their life is at risk. This type of anorexia treatment usually involves administering fluids and nutrients to replace those lost through not eating.
Although there is no medication that can cure your child’s eating disorder, medicines are sometimes used as part of ongoing anorexia treatment to treat complications of the disorder, such as osteoporosis.
Private treatment for other eating disorders
Other eating problems that may affect children include picky eating, extreme food phobias and severe food allergies or intolerances. Eating disorders other than anorexia or bulimia in pre-teen children may need different types of specialist treatment to those described here and availability varies in different hospitals and clinics.