There is a great danger in delayed diagnosis of eating disorders in children, primarily because people do not think of children as being old enough to have an eating disorder. A lot of the time, eating disorders occur in adolescents, because their hormones are turning on and they are having a tough time dealing with new changes to their bodies and peer pressure, and in adults who are struggling with their weight. The unfortunate truth is, most diagnoses of eating disorders in children don’t come until their condition is life-threatening.
You might be further surprised to learn that young boys are more likely to develop an eating disorder than girls of the same age, according to the Medical Journal of Australia in 2009. Believe it or not, boys and men are just as self-conscious about their looks and bodies as women. Instead of being pressured into just looking thinner, men also have the added worry about being adequately strong and toned. Because society traditionally expects only girls to have self esteem issues that would lead to an eating disorder, doctors often don’t even know to look for those signs in boys.
Think about these odds: If an eating disorder were caught early on in a child and treated properly, those children would have a 70% to 80% better chance of fully recovering within a year, and about a 90% better chance of improving those children’s condition fully within five years. Comparatively, an adult might only have a recovery rate of 50% in five years. The good news is that children can recover more easily if the signs are recognized, but the bad news is, those signs often go undetected far longer than they would in an adult.
Another thing to realize is that eating disorders are not just about your diet. Having an eating disorder is often a way of coping with stress and anxiety, so children who are watching their parents get a divorce might succumb to an eating disorder more easily, or children who have lost a close loved one.
To further complicate matters, the media and society in general have indoctrinated in children at a younger and younger age the importance of beauty and looking good. The effects of Disney teen stars like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, all of whom are mostly catering to a preteen and younger crowd, are excessively glamorous and intending to promote looking sexy. In the past, most children probably would not be exposed to that kind of message until sometime in their teens. The pressure to look as good as their favorite teen idols may seem frivolous, but it is no different than adults who strive to look like their favorite celebrities.
If we want to reverse the trend of eating disorders in children, it is important to recognize the effects of the media and peers on impressionable young people. They are still at a delicate stage in their development, and it is important to reinforce their worth beyond their looks and decry superficiality.
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