By Lori Hanson
The numbers of young children getting trapped into eating disorders are on the rise. I’m seeing regular articles both in the U.S. and abroad that are commenting on the growing phenomenon. I was 14 when mine started, pretty typical. Now kids as young as eight are obsessing about their weight! There are two sides to the story.
In the past 10-15 years the rise in obesity in young children has grown significantly. Richard Simmons has gone all the way to congress with his FIT Kids bill to preserve PE classes and get kids moving again. With all the introduction of technology (and increase in crime) kids lifestyles have changed, they aren’t outside playing anymore. They aren’t getting exercise. They are developing poor habits from a very early age which will haunt them their entire life. Being overweight as a young child has a strong negative impact on self-esteem which will affect each child’s ability to be confident and successful in life.
On the flip side you have the kids who are absorbing all they see in the media, skinny models, skinny actors and musicians. Everything that’s put in front of them on the TV, billboards and magazines portrays the picture of what they’re supposed to look like – thin and gorgeous. Here, nothing has changed except now children are taking it on. So a young child begins to control their food intake as a way to achieve the “the perfect look”. Different approach, same result – this obsession leads to poor self-esteem and lack of confidence which will impact their future.
In many ways the person that’s overweight and one with an eating disorder aren’t so different. Both experience lack of confidence and hatred for themselves and their bodies. Both have low self-worth.
An eating disorder can have numerous contributing factors including pressures of society, troubled family and personal relationships, sexual abuse, feeling inadequate, anxious, depressed or lonely. The rituals practiced with an eating disorder give the individual a coping mechanism to avoid expressing emotions and a feeling of being in control.
Lifestyle and the family unit have changed significantly. We all well know about the increase in divorce, dual income families, super mom, soccer mom, overachiever kids, deadbeat dads and the impact this has had on the Beaver Cleaver days. But this also has a direct effect on the development of childhood obesity and now childhood eating disorders.
Young children need to understand the severity of what an eating disorder can do to their lives. If food is restricted during a child’s growth phase they are at risk of stunting their growth, developing weak bones and shrinking their brains.* Many high school age kids aren’t even aware that the new rituals they are following can result in death.
Awareness, prevention and early detection are critical. The earlier these symptoms are identified in young children the better chance they have of growing up with confidence, prepared for a life filled with health, happiness and balance.
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*About Eating Disorders, Gantdaily.com, 8/23/08