Who’s at Risk for Eating Disorders? It May Surprise You

Boy On ScaleStereotypes project teen girls the only group at risk for anorexia and bulimia, but girls as young as 9 also struggle with eating disorders.

Boys Are Not Immune to Eating Disorders

You may not think boys are at risk either, but the Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders at Children’s Medical Center has seen a dramatic increase in the percentage of boys younger than 18 in its program — from 11 to 24 percent in just five years. Think wrestling, swimming, cycling, and gymnastics — sports identified by a specific body type and/or weight. “Boys are not immune to cultural messages of beauty or fitness and feeling pressures of body type,” says Shari Scott, Ph.D., the center’s clinical director.

Signs of an Eating Disorder

Kids sometimes struggle with eating disorders for some time before anyone notices. Dr. Scott says these may be signs your child is having problems:

  • Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • Extreme rituals or rules around food or eating
  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a
    minimally normal weight for height, body type, age,
    and activity level
  • Repeated episodes of bingeing on large amounts of food
  • Purging after a binge, typically by self-induced vomiting
  • Abuse of laxatives, diet pills, and/or diuretics
  • Excessive exercise or fasting

Don’t Delay if You Detect Signs

Ignoring the warning signs could potentially compromise your child’s health. Anorexia can lead to dehydration and malnutrition, while bulimia increases the risk for heart and esophagus issues. Normal adolescent growth and development are another concern. Girls with eating disorders throughout their adolescence can experience compromised estrogen production and bone density. Production of testosterone and other hormones can be delayed in boys.

The causes of eating disorders are just now being better understood. Cultural pressures, a child’s temperament and style of coping with stress, family dynamics, depression, and anxiety can all play a part. If the signs are present, consider seeing your pediatrician or a mental health provider who specializes in the treatment of eating problems right away. The sooner you seek help, the better the prognosis.

How Children’s Can Help

The Children’s Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders, the only facility of its kind in Texas, offers a full continuum of care — from hospitalization to outpatient therapy. It’s also the state’s only center that treats boys and young children struggling
with eating disorders.

Children’s recently moved the center to its Children’s at Legacy campus in Plano to expand its ability to treat the growing number of youngsters battling eating disorders. It o€ffers a calm setting for patients with views of open fields, large therapy rooms, and a state-of-the-art kitchen used in family therapy. For more information,
call 214-456-8899.

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